I am a big sucker for ebooks for many reasons. First, there is a noble reason of not cutting the trees and helping the planet. There are other practical and lesser mortal reasons like saving space by not having huge bookshelves occupying most of the office space, cost (the consumers are supposed to have huge savings because the cost of printing books is zero, duplication is effortless and no issues of supply chain and retail shelf space, etc. but as usual the anomaly in the current day markets are still keeping the prices high), ease of carrying the books and, more importantly, helping kids and future generations from carrying a load of books to school everyday. In this era of everything digital, clinging on to the old fashioned paper based books is just a case of psychology than anything else.
Today’s announcement of Google’s plans to sell ebooks, called Google Editions, through their own store was definitely a good news for me.
Google plans to launch an online store to deliver electronic books to any device with a Web browser, threatening to upset a burgeoning market for dedicated e-readers dominated by Amazon’s Kindle.
The Web search giant said on Thursday it would launch Google Editions in the first half of next year, initially offering about half a million e-books in partnership with publishers with whom it already cooperates, where they have digital rights.
I didn’t get any briefing from Google on this topic but based on what I saw in Tech blogosphere, I will offer my initial thoughts.
- To me it appears like a slightly grander version of O’ Reilly’s Safari Online, an online library cum book store for technology books. With Safari Online, users can read books using a browser in the desktop or smart phones, download PDF/EPUB (for a small fee) and read it on devices that support these formats. From my initial understanding, Google Editions offers a way to read the books through browser and compatible apps on many different devices. I support any attempts to open up the ebooks as I feel that when we move from the traditional paper based world to ebooks, we should gain more opportunities to access content and not feel restricted due to draconian control mechanisms, usually employed by digital media industry. Based on this belief of mine, I think that this move by a powerful player like Google will be disruptive.
- I hope they also offer an option to export the books in one of the open formats to use it entirely offline without having to use a device to connect with them first. This way, I will be able to use the books in older hardware like my current Sony e-reader.
- The integration of Google’s powerful search engine is a boon. I can now search through my books in the Google way instead of old fashioned hierarchical search.
- I am assuming that they will extend the embedding feature available in Google Books to this. It will come handy for writing blogs, research papers, etc.
- I also hope they have some level of collaboration built inside their ebook ecosystem. In the traditional world, books are a big part of many human collaborative processes starting with a simple thing reading a book together with siblings or other family members to reading books as a part of a big research group. Google is the face of SaaS and the many collaborative features that comes with it. I would expect them to include collaboration to be part of the ebook experience too.
- I, also, hope Google will hit the final nail in the publishing industry coffin by empowering the authors to gain the most from their hard work. The way authors are getting paid now is one of the biggest anomaly of the market system and a truly free market system should empower the people who create than the middle men. I hope this move by Google kick starts the process in full throttle.
Overall, it is a great news. One side of my brain whines “monopoly, monopoly” and the other side feels contented that we have one place where the world’s information are organized for our consumption. It is too early to say if this move by Google is good for the society and it is too early to dismiss it as a danger too. Let us just hope that Google stays true to its motto and empowers the users.