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Google Opens a Virtual Bookstore

The electronic bookstore offers titles in open formats, via the cloud.
December 6, 2010

Google has launched an e-book store, and it could shake up digital publishing.

As part of its mission to collect all the world’s knowledge and make it searchable, Google scanned millions of books. Google offered the full text of books in the public domain, but for books still under copyright, the company could not give access to the entire book, even when the customer was willing to pay for it. Just previews, and places to buy a hard copy or a ebook.

Coming out the other side of legal battles with authors and publishers, Google has now won the right to sell books still under copyright. Any perusal of the e-book store will show that Google’s won quite a victory—big-name authors such as John Grisham and Stephen King are featured prominently, along with favorites of the literary circle such as Jhumpa Lahiri, and indie press stars such as Greer Gilman.

Several things make today’s news very important to the digital publishing world.

First, Google has an enormous collection of books available. Its deal with authors and publishers gives the company a good chance of becoming the e-book store with the widest selection.

Second, Google Books is integrated with the company’s search engine—so searchers are just a few clicks away from buying one of its e-books.

Third, Google offers to store e-books in the cloud, untethered to any particular device. Readers can access their books from anywhere with a browser—a major improvement over the lock-in experienced with some dedicated e-readers available on the market. Readers who want to download files can do so in PDF or ePub formats, both of which are widely supported.

Finally, Google is hoping to win over independent booksellers by making its library of e-books available to bookstore partners, such as the famed independent store Powell’s, who can add recommendations and information on top of Google’s collection.

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