CNET has an interesting interview with Ian Freed, Amazon vice president for the wildly popular Kindle electronic book reading device, that makes me wonder whether Google should even bother launching its Google Editions online bookstore.
Freed claims Amazon commands 70 to 80 percent of the e-reader market. He doesn't just mention it offhand, it's more boastful and assertive than that. Here's the question-and-answer exchange:
CNET: Well, Apple's saying it's got 20 percent market share and I've heard Barnes & Noble saying it's got 20 percent as well, so that would leave you guys with...
Freed: Honestly, something doesn't add up because we're pretty sure we're 70 to 80 percent of the market. So, something, somewhere isn't quite working right. I encourage you to do some more research. Obviously, from the beginning of Amazon we've been very metrics-focused and we don't typically throw out numbers we don't firmly believe in. Take that 70 to 80 percent number and add up all the others and something somewhere isn't going to add up.
Let's assume Freed is right and Amazon really has, say, 75 percent of the e-reader market. Let's assume Barnes & Noble's Nook and Sony gadgets and other devices round out the market.
Why on earth is Google launching Google Editions this summer? Google Editions will make some 400,000 books available online to readers through any Web browser and Web-enabled device, including laptops, tablet computers and smartphones.
Readers will use their Google accounts to purchase the books directly from Google, whose Google Checkout system will serve as the payment platform. Google will pay publishers 63 percent of revenues and keep 37 percent for itself where it sold e-books directly to consumers.
The search engine will also let independent bookstores in the ABA and others sell their e-books on their own sites using Editions. In this wholesale model, publishers would get 45 percent, with most of the remaining 55 percent going to the retailer. Google would take a small revenue cut.
Google Editions is unique in that it doesn't specify certain devices or get wrapped up in DRM controls the way Amazon Kindle and Apple's iBookstore for the iPhone and iPad do.
But it's still going against a well-established market, where Amazon is the Google of the e-reader domain. So I say why bother? I don't like Google's moves here anymore than I like its flirtations with the online music market versus Apple's iTunes. I argued as much here in June.
I don't mean to suggest Google shouldn't enter any market it can't win the way it has dominated with search. But it shouldn't dabble where so many others are well entrenched.
Where's the value in that sort of "me, too" proposition? In such instances, I think Google underestimates its user base.
It assumes that its Web searchers, which comprises 65 percent of the United States and more in other countries, all use or will use Google's other Web services, too.
That's given it a sort of hubris in believing it can compete in any market it enters just to make sure its ads catch more eyeballs.
Google: Apple owns music, Amazon owns books. Don't embarrass yourself. Google Book Search is a different animal because it aims to make orphan works the other book providers aren't trucking in available online for purchase. This could catch on big in university libraries.
But Editions is just another mini-mart for books. The open device and platform approach is a nice gesture, but it's not enough. Amazon Kindle is rolling.