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 Amazon.com 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. (Amazon announced late Monday that it would demonstrate a new version of its Kindle for the Web today, although the device probably will not be available until next year.)
Google will sell books via two main online channels. The first is its eBookStore (books.google.com/ebooks), where it will sell directly to consumers and share the proceeds with publishers. (It also will distribute a Google Books widget to other websites to allow users to click through to buy a book. On Monday, the book club site Good Reads already had the widget.)
Google has also made deals with hundreds of independent bricks-and-mortar bookstores so that, if customers buy Google e-books through the stores' websites, the stores split the proceeds with Google, after the publishers' cut. Google said it made deals individually with each store and has not disclosed the proportion of the revenue sharing.
Inkwood Books, an independent bookstore in Tampa, is one of those stores and had already sold at least one book through Google eBooks by Monday afternoon. Carla Jimenez, co-owner of the store, said, "We're excited about it. We've merely been waiting for Google. We knew the American Booksellers Association (the trade organization of independent booksellers) had been working on this deal for a while."
Jimenez says the store has been selling e-books through its website for some time, but the partnership with Google will raise its e-book profile. "We know the percentage of book sales that are e-books, and it's small, but it's exponentially increasing. We want to be in the marketplace."
She doesn't expect Google eBooks to have "a big impact on our day-to-day lives, but for those customers of ours who have started buying a portion of their books in this format, it's great."
At Haslam's Book Store in St. Petersburg, co-owner Ray Hinst says, "We haven't paid real close attention to it because of our focus on the traditional printed book. I don't really know much about it."
Hinst says he has seen the effect that e-books are having on publishing and selling of printed books. "You would hope there could be a world in which they both would exist."
He says Google hasn't been in contact with the store, but Haslam's has plans to step up its Web presence. "Maybe we'll look into it."
At online booksellers, e-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 nonagency 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 about 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.
Copyright 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 not be available through the Google bookstore.
Times book editor Colette Bancroft contributed to this report.
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