Download best-sellers and other e-books from Google soon? U.K. report tantalizes

GoogleIs Google about to offer a kick-rear bookstore for us e-book fans? And will yet another e-book format pop up? The Times in the U.K. says today:

The internet search giant is working on a system that would allow readers to download entire books to their computers in a format that they could read on screen or on mobile devices such as a Blackberry. With 380m people using Google each month, the move would give a significant boost to the development of e-books and have a big impact on the publishing industry and book retailers. Jens Redmer, director of Google Book Search in Europe, said: "We are working on a platform that will let publishers give readers full access to a book online."
Alex at MobileRead worries that Google may not allow offline reading, apparently because the article mentions: "read on screen or on mobile devices such as a Blackberry." Blackberries come with Web browsing capabilities, of course. The Blackberry's tiny screen and online vs. offline How well, though, would Blackberry owners fare with an online-only approach from Google? The company's Book Search now relies on images of book pages. I doubt that would work too well on small, Blackberry-sized screens. Of course, Google could still use an online-only approach with some variant of HTML. But if it's going to that trouble, it may well want to do a full-fledged format for offine reading. Besides, what about the article's repeated use of the D word, Download---as opposed to use of simply the E-Book Museum approach. Yep, the Museum approach still involves downloads, technically. But I remain optimistic. What's more, I think a browser approach is cool if keep-the-book downloads are still possible as well.

The NIH issue

Anther issue is whether Google will apply its frequent Not Invented Here mindset. Or instead will it go by a standard in line with the IDPF‘s?

Or maybe even be influenced by the superior OpenReader specs?

While I’ve got my differences with OpenReader over the enforcement and implementation of the standard and prefer that standards work happen in the IDPF, I still believe in the technological virtues of the OR approach.

Laudable interest in mobile devices

Meanwhile—regardless of my eBabel concerns and also my fears that one company could exercise too much control over publishing as if:book has warned, or in the opposite direction let onerous, publisher-mandated DRM clutter things up—I’m heartened that Google cares about the mobile market from the start.

Along the way, newspapers could benefit as well, given the attractiveness of mobile devices as options for newspaper readers, who, after all, can’t lug and read from desktops on the subway.

Kickstart for e-book biz?

More importantly from a TeleBlog book perspective, I hope this gives the e-book industry the kickstart badly needs.

In the grand scheme of things, a big Google e-book push in the retail area just might be far, far more significant than the advent of E Ink readers. The real markets will remain for now on PDAs and cellphones and desktops.

All of this, of course, is predicated on the Times report being factual about the nuances. Oh, those little details!

(Update, Jan. 23: No, apparently the Times report was not factual about the details. See Branko’s report and my own reaction to the news that Google for now won’t sell downloads. – DR.)

Related: How about the possibility of a Google phone with e-book capabilities? Check out the Cleveland Leader. Interestingly, the blog notes that the device will lack on-board storage. So who knows? Even though online browsing doesn’t necessarily preclude the keep-the-book kind of offline reading, maybe Alex could be right in his fears even though I suspect otherwise.

Also of interest: University of Texas library in Austin joins Google Book Search project, from TechWhack.

Disclosure: I’ve got a tiny slice of Google stock for retirement purposes, but haven’t in the least refrained from being grouchy about the company when it deserves this.

4 Comments on Download best-sellers and other e-books from Google soon? U.K. report tantalizes

  1. Anther issue is whether Google will apply its frequent Not Invented Here mindset. Or instead will it go by a standard in line with the IDPF’s?

    Or maybe even be influenced by the superior OpenReader specs?

    I never really cared for e-book “standards”. They are typically the work of vapourware kings who have little else to do than try and tell others how they should live their lives. I know this to be true, because now and then these vapourware kings come and bother Project Gutenberg volunteers with their “ideas”. Also, whatever small e-book market we may have seems already able to sustain a number of formats which seem to be doing just fine. So I am guessing: the market will decide.

    However. Since talk here drifts towards e-book standards now and again (for obvious reasons), I got to think about them a little more. And here’s what I feel now: standards are a non-issue. The issue is rights, and how to secure them against readers. In other words: DRM.

    Here’s why: imagine for a sec that you were a major publisher, and you were thinking about e-books because every market, however small, is a new source of income, and also because you have this uneasy feeling that e-books, no matter how often they have failed so far, are the way of the future.

    Now what would worry you more: choosing between formats (and presumably taking Adobe and a bunch of little known organisations who roll around fighting in the dust like a bunch of small boys seriously), or choosing between DRM schemes? I am sure the major publishers are going to look at how they can make money out of this e-book thing first, and at how they are going to get these e-books to readers second.

    Google is (mostly) a smart company. They may not come up with something that fills the Rothman household with joy, but they will figure out the format that is going to keep both lots of readers and the publishers involved happy enough to start an e-book market. I sincerely doubt the secret formula is going to be OpenReader, unless the Google Labs are working on the accompagnying software now. (It’s happened before: Google Video for instance is based on the FOSS Videolan library.)

    To be honest, in this instance (of Google doing e-books) I find it difficult to look into the future, because it’s a new thing for Google, and because publishers seem to have relaxed a little about rights lately. Whatever it’s going to be, though, it’s going to be market-driven, not committee-steered.

  2. Heck, Branko, I’m looking at standards from the perspective of a user.

    I want reliable and durable interbook links and annotations and other amenities that will serve the causes of scholarship and curiosity.

    Standards and reliable preservation are the key to making this and more happen.

    Other issues abound, such as the needs of disabled people.

    As unhappy as I am with the implementation and enforcement of OpenReader, I haven’t the slightest problem with the goals.

    If the IDPF can achieve the same objectives—in fact, I’d rather that standards happen there than within OR—then so much the better.

    I know market forces need to be considered, but let’s also think of long-term social and academic goals that standards can serve. Must everything—e-book-related or not—happen in the name of “markets” and “efficiency”?

    Anyway, thanks for your opinions. It’s great to expose readers to the different sides here.

    David

    P.S. Google is familiar with the OpenReader standard—that I can say for sure. It would be entirely in character for the company to pick up some aspects of it while coming up with Google specs.

  3. “I’m heartened that Google cares about the mobile market from the start.”

    Same here but unfortunately, Blackberry only represents an insignificant percentage of mobile devices out there – there are not even close to 10 million blackberries but there are 2 BILLION mobile phones.

    We at Wattpad (www.wattpad.com) are trying to bridge that gap by provide a free service that allows users to discover, read, share and request stories (e.g. e-texts but more) on virtually any mobile phones. With more and more digitized texts available, we are very happy to be able to make all these contents available on the most ubiquitous e-reader – mobile phones – so that people can read anytime, anywhere.

  4. Enjoyed reading your post.

    Google is noot the only player on the scene. For everyone’s info, we at Bookyards ( http://www.bookyards.com ) have compiled a good collection of free digital libraries with books available for downloading for free. Just go to Bookyards “Library Collections – E Books” at http://www.bookyards.com/links.html?type=links&category_id=1780
    There are approximately 550 digital libraries separated alphabetically and by category, with over 500,000 unique ebooks

    Bookyards is a free online library located at http://www.bookyards.com

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