Google Enters the E-Book Fray to Battle With Apple and Amazon

Google, whose Book Search site is shown in this photo from the Frankfurt Book Fair, will this summer enter the exploding e-book market, setting the search giant up as a formidable player doing battle with Apple and Amazon in the digital publishing world.Google (GOOG) has been promising to enter the exploding e-book market for well over a year. As of this summer, that promise will become a reality, setting Google up as a formidable player doing battle with Apple (AAPL) and Amazon (AMZN) in the digital publishing world.

At a Tuesday morning panel sponsored by the Book Industry Study Group, Chris Palma, Google's manager for strategic-partner development, confirmed the company will sell e-books through its Google Editions program "in late June or July," according to The Wall Street Journal. That timetable is more or less in line with the company's projections as outlined earlier this year.

E-Books In the Cloud

Through Google Editions, the Internet search giant hopes to sell hundreds of thousands of e-books, from public domain works to brand-new books licensed to them by big and small publishers alike, that users can discover first through Google's Book Search. The difference between the Editions model and those on offer from Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble (BKS) and other retailers is that Google's e-books will exist "in the cloud."

In other words, Editions e-books will be available perpetually through Google's website, not as files that can be downloaded -- and subsequently, shared and pirated.

As CNET points out, going with Web-based e-books means that Google won't have to concern itself overmuch with digital rights management (DRM), which copy-protects e-books from being shared willy-nilly. The arrangement also means Google Editions can be offered for sale by book retailers, such as independent bookstores, so long as the company, acting as a distributor, gets a specific cut of the revenue.

Terms of the revenue split between Google and publishers have changed in the year or so since Google Editions was first announced, in large part because of many big publishers moving to an "agency model" for e-book revenue, where retailers like Apple get a 30% cut of the e-book list price.

Lawsuit Settlement in Limbo

Adding another wrinkle to Google Editions is the current status of the Google book settlement -- the proposed resolution of a class-action lawsuit claiming Google violated the copyrights of authors and publishers by scanning their books to create an electronic database of published works -- which is very much in limbo right now.

U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin was expected to rule on the case, which stemmed from a lawsuit launched by the Authors Guild against Google, but as he was recently appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and must first take care of outstanding criminal cases before handling civil ones, no one knows whether Chin will wrap things up quickly -- or drop the matter into another judge's lap.

However the book settlement is resolved -- or not -- Google Editions is the technology giant's boldest step into the e-book market. And it's hard to argue with technologist and blogger Bud Parr's assessment that this news, coupled with the iPad's flying, million-selling start, makes this "Amazon's game to lose" and that "both Google and Apple, despite their differences...will drive the e-book market in the future."
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