Internet search giant Google recently announced the opening of their highly anticipated electronic-book store. Formed in the 1990s to offer internet searching, Google has grown into a widely diversified high tech company, offering a wide breadth of services. In 2003, Google entered the book field by announcing it would begin scanning millions of older books with partner libraries, which would then be made available to the public via their website. Online access is available to millions of older books in full, or more recent (under copyright) books in snippets. However, technology has moved far beyond 2003, and consumers now expect the most recent titles in complete, digital copies, and that they be available on small, portable devices. Amazon led the charge; Google has now answered the call.
On December 6, 2010, Google launched their eBook store, offering 3 million titles, including more recent titles for sale, and older, out of copyright books, for free. This may be ground previously trod by Amazon, but Google hopes to make it more convenient for consumers to use. Google's selection is around a million greater than Amazon's, though it is likely most of that million consists of older or less in-demand titles. Where Google mostly tries to compete with Amazon is on issues of convenience, though this gap is rapidly closing.
Amazon's strength, and perhaps in some sense its weakness, is its dedicated Kindle eBook reader. When Amazon first launched electronic-book selling, it did so with a dedicated reader and an Amazon store from which those books had to be purchased. It was a closed circle. Exclusivity is a double-edged sword. It can lock the competition out, or lock yourself away from customers using a different reader or bookstore. Google took a different tack in that it offers no electronic reader. You need to buy that from someone else, virtually anyone except Amazon. Kindles still need books sold by Amazon, but Amazon did quickly respond to the other half of the readers' choice issue. Amazon's ebooks no longer have to be read on Kindles; they can be read online or on other devices too.
This opening of Kindle books to other readers should help neutralize what would have been a major advantage for Google. When you buy a book from Google, it can be stored both on your reader and in the "cloud." The cloud means you can access your eBooks through the internet. So, if you leave your electronic reader at home, you can use a different, compatible device, or an online computer, and read your books from there. It will even remember in the "cloud" where you left off, so you can pick up at the right page from another device. It's kind of an electronic bookmark. However, Amazon is now making its Kindle software available for other brands of devices, so that Kindle reader/buyers can do the same. Still, books for your Kindle reader need to be purchased from Amazon. Those owning other devices need not purchase all of their books from Google.
Google has also expanded its market by opening its library of electronic books to other sellers. Independent booksellers can become Google partners and sell Google electronic books from their own websites. Google has already signed up Alibris, the second largest online seller of used books, to its partnership program. This should both help Google sell more books while enabling traditional booksellers, who could not possibly develop a large library of electronic texts to sell themselves, to enter the eBook market. This could be critical to the survival of smaller book retailers as they try to compete in a world where books are increasingly turning digital. For larger merchants, such as Alibris, it allows them to keep up with Amazon. Alibris' CEO Brian Elliott issued a statement explaining, "This partnership with Google highlights our commitment to providing Alibris buyers with the best book selection available."