Although its copyright settlement with publishers is still in legal limbo, Google has announced that it will be starting to sell e-books through an online storefront early this summer. Like Apple and Amazon, Google's store would see it offer up in-print books obtained from publishers, which will retain their ability to set the prices for these works. But there's every reason to expect that the same storefront will be awash with out-of-print books the minute that Google can get a settlement for its ongoing lawsuit approved.
Google apparently dropped the news at a publishing industry event, sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group, and held in New York City. It has since been picked up by, well, just about everyone (many reports seem to be crediting a Wall Street Journal story for the announcement).
According to these reports, the service will be called Google Editions, and will enable access to the e-book store to be embedded in other sites. So, for example, in addition to a traditional online store, Google will provide the option of purchasing books on the pages returned by its Book Search. In addition, third parties will apparently be encouraged to embed sales widgets into their own sites. Potentially, an author's website could enable readers to directly purchase the works without ever navigating to a Google property. Were that to actually work out, authors would end up with a cut of the revenue from both Google and their publishers.
On the hardware side, Google promises that its e-books will be device-agnostic. Presumably, that will work a bit like Barnes & Noble's e-book offerings, which can be read on a variety of desktop and portable devices, including its own Nook e-reader, but not on Amazon's Kindle. About the only company that isn't taking this approach right now is Apple, so this isn't exactly a revolutionary step.
Given that the publishing industry has sued Google for copyright violations, it might seem surprising that Google was able to work out a deal for the books and announce its plans at an industry event. But, since the suit was filed, the search giant and publishers have negotiated a proposed settlement that they're all quite eager to see approved. For Google, it will mean the ability to sell lots of works that it has already scanned; any competitors will have to go through a Google-backed licensing group to get them. For the publishers, the settlement could mean some additional revenue without any of the annoying costs associated with printing a physical book or formatting a digital version.
There's still no indication of how this settlement will fare in the courts; everyone from individual authors to the US Department of Justice has issues with it, so it may take years before Google is able to sell any of this older content.
This may be why Google execs decided that they had to act now. The company had presumably developed the technology underlying its new storefront in order to be prepared in case the settlement gets approved. The longer it waited to launch the service, the greater the chances that one of its competitors would establish a dominant position on the e-book marketplace. In addition, only one of those competitors has bothered to release an Android application, a development that couldn't have made Google execs happy.
By opening up its own e-book store now, Google increases its chances of being a relevant competitor in the e-book marketplace when the settlement gets approved. And, if that day never comes, there's probably money to be made in the meantime.
We've asked Google whether it could confirm the details in these press reports, but we have not yet received a response.
Source: ars technica