The New York Time: The Google e-bookstore is finally open.
|Tom Turvey, head of strategic partnerships at Google, said he thought the book business should have diversity of retail points|
After years of planning and months of delays, the search giant Google started its e-book venture on Monday, creating a potentially robust competitor in the digital book market to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple.
Google executives described the e-bookstore as an “open ecosystem” that will offer more than three million books, including hundreds of thousands for sale and millions free.
More than 4,000 publishers, including large trade book companies like Random House, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, have made books available for sale through Google, many at prices that are identical to those of other e-bookstores.
“We really think it’s important that the book business have this open diversity of retail points, just like it does in print,” Tom Turvey, the director for strategic partnerships at Google, said in an interview. “We want to make sure we maintain that and support that.”
Customers can set up an account for buying books, store them in a central online, password-protected library and read them on personal computers, tablets, smartphones and e-readers. A Web connection will not be necessary to read a book. However users can use a dedicated app that can be downloaded to an iPad, iPhone or Android phone.
A typical user could begin reading an e-book on an iPad at home, continue reading the same book on an Android phone on the subway and then pick it up again on a Web browser at the office, with the book opening each time to the place where the user left off.
The Google eBookstore could be a significant benefit to independent bookstores like Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., that have signed on to sell Google e-books on their Web sites through Google — the first significant entry for independents into the e-book business.
“This levels the playing field,” said Oren Teicher, the chief executive of the American Booksellers Association. “If you want to buy e-books, you don’t just have to buy them from the big national outlets.”
It is also an opportunity for independents to learn from past missteps. They were slow to build Web sites to sell books during the initial expansion of online retailing in the 1990s, a mistake that led their customers to turn to Amazon and its deeply discounted selection.
“They were so overwhelmed with the competition that Amazon presented, they just didn’t know what they could do to be competitive in the digital arena,” said Peter Osnos, the founder and editor at large of PublicAffairs, an independent publisher. “Google’s giving them a real shot at doing that.”
Publishers said they were elated that Amazon would have another serious e-book retailing force to contend with. Only last year, Amazon nearly had the e-book market to itself, leading publishers to worry that they were headed toward an Amazon monopoly.
Since then, a vastly more diversified marketplace has emerged. Last fall, Barnes & Noble introduced an e-reader, the Nook, and more recently, an updated color version, the Nook Color. In April, Apple unveiled the iPad, which the company said in October had sold 7.5 million units.
Perhaps most important, five of the six largest publishers of trade books switched this year from a traditional wholesale model to what is known in the publishing industry as an agency model. Under that model publishers set their own prices for e-books, and a retailer acts as an agent of the publishers, taking a 30 percent cut of each sale and leaving 70 percent for the publisher.
A crop of e-readers introduced this year has given consumers more choices, at prices that are competitive, even less than $100. Google e-books will be readable on any open-format e-readers, including the Nook, a development that publishers said would give consumers greater freedom.
“Consumers have been in a position where they had to claim some kind of loyalty,” said Maja Thomas, the senior vice president for Hachette Digital, part of the Hachette Book Group, which publishes authors including Stacy Schiff and James Patterson. “Now they can buy books from their local bookstores online, or from Powell’s, or from Google.”
E-books bought through Google are not currently readable on Amazon’s Kindle, a Google spokeswoman said, although Kindle users will be able to read free e-books obtained through Google.
Google executives said that the five large trade publishers using the agency model would operate under that model with Google, while many other publishers would use a traditional wholesale model.
In addition to the dedicated Google site and independent bookstores’ sites, Alibris, an online retailer for new and used books, movies and music, will sell e-books. Google has also set up an affiliate program that would allow blogs and other Web sites to steer customers to buy books through Google, earning a marketing commission for traffic that they send to Google.
The Google e-bookstore will go well beyond trade books, including scientific, technical, medical, scholarly and professional reference books that might more typically be read on a desktop or laptop computer. For some books, if the publisher allows it, customers will be able to cut and paste text, a feature that made some publishers balk.
Some industry specialists said they were waiting to see if Google — which has far more experience in search than in sales — could create a site that is as simple to use for e-commerce as Amazon.com, and whether large numbers of consumers would shift their buying loyalties from well-known national book chains to Google or local bookstores.
“Everything depends on execution,” said Mike Shatzkin, founder and chief executive of the Idea Logical Company, which advises book publishers on digital change. “They don’t have a lot of experience in retail or merchandising.”
It is difficult to say what Google’s addition to the market means for the wider penetration of e-books, said Tim McCall, the director for online sales and marketing for the Penguin Group USA.
“Obviously Google has a very broad reach, so I would say that at the very least, our books and our e-books should be more discoverable,” Mr. McCall said. “It’s interesting that the newest partners who are selling books are as much technology companies as they are traditional retailers.”
David Steinberger, the chief executive of the Perseus Books Group, said that Google’s dominance in the search business could raise the profile of books in general.
“They have the ability to bring book content up through search, and now they’ll have the ability to consummate a sale,” Mr. Steinberger said. “That feels like it will grow the market.”
The Google e-bookstore is an outgrowth of the Google books project, an effort that began in 2004 to scan all 130 million books in the world, by Google’s estimate. Scott Dougall, Google’s director for product management, said the company had scanned about 15 million books so far.
Google executives said they were trying to replicate the freedom with which consumers have bought printed books for centuries.
As Abraham Murray, product manager for Google Books, explained in a blog post on Monday, “You can choose where to buy your e-books like you choose where to buy your print books, and keep them all on the same bookshelf regardless of where you got them.”
E-books are a small but rapidly growing part of the book market, making up 9 to 10 percent of trade book sales for many major publishers.
One bookseller, Darin Sennett, the director for strategic projects for Powell’s in Portland, said he did not see the deal as a sign that print books were dying.
“People do love bookstores and they’re an important part of our culture,” Mr. Sennett said. “Print books are not dead. People will continue to want them and love them. But their desires and the way they want to read are evolving. I can see print and e-books living nicely together.”