Google brings e-book battle to Amazon with new platform

David Sarno,
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Google Inc. is penning the next chapter in the story of electronic books.

On Monday, the Mountain View, Calif., technology giant unveiled its long-expected “Google eBooks” platform, an e-book store that contains 3 million volumes, most of which are free public domain works.

But hundreds of thousands of Google’s e-books will be paid titles from major and minor publishers. Those will include many bestsellers and, Google says, the vast majority of books already commercially available in electronic form.

By opening its eBookStore, Google is pitting itself squarely against established digital booksellers, including the market leader and relative newcomer Apple Inc. Google’s stated aim is to allow users to purchase and read books from as many devices as possible.

The books can be read online through a new Google reading interface that also launched Monday. They’ll also work on a number of tablet and e-reader devices, including Apple’s iPad and iPhone, Android-based smart phones and tablets, and e-ink devices from Sony and Barnes & Noble.

Amazon Kindle users will not be able to purchase new books from Google, though the Kindle will be able to display some of Google’s public domain (non-copyrighted) books.

Google will sell the books via two main online channels. The first is its eBookStore, where it will sell directly to consumers and share the proceeds with publishers. The second is by way of online bookstores, which will add a Google e-book sales widget to their websites and split the retail proceeds with Google.

Books sold by most of the large U.S. publishers _ Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette Book Group, Macmillan, Simon and Schuster _ fall under the so-called “agency model,” in which the publisher sets the list price, takes roughly 70 percent of the sales revenue, and the retailer _ in this case, Google _ takes the remaining 30 percent.

For non-agency books, Google will use an algorithm to choose a price based on market data, not including competitors’ prices, Google says. Google then keeps the proceeds from that sale, minus approximately 52 percent of the publisher’s original list price.

Google representatives said the proportion of the revenue split can vary somewhat depending on the specifics of deals with individual publishers.

Google has also done deals with hundreds of independent bookstores such that, if customers buy Google e-books through stores’ websites, the stores split the proceeds with Google, after the publisher’s cut. Google said it made deals individually with each store, and has not disclosed the proportion of the revenue sharing.

Copy protection has been a concern among publishers of e-books, who worry that the digital book files can be copied and widely circulated online. Google will use a variety of copy-protection mechanisms, including a patented copy protection scheme for books displayed on the web, encrypted files for iPhone and Android devices, and Adobe Inc.’s ACS 4 system for e-ink devices.

Google’s system will automatically keep track of a reader’s stopping point, even if the reader switches from one device to another. That mechanism, however, will not initially work for e-ink devices. Nor will Google’s Web interface allow for highlighting or note-taking.

Google has scanned 15 million books as part of the large-scale book digitization project it started in 2004. Many of those books, however, are still under copyright and subject to a lawsuit awaiting resolution in a New York federal court. Until that lawsuit is settled, most of those books will remain out of the Google bookstore. n


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