Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Another eBook Store? Yep! But This One's From Google.

Don’t want to buy your ebooks from Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble or Borders? Google is happy to help: The search giant has launched its own e-book store, along with its own ebook reader software.

Lots of today’s Google eBook launch has already been covered in the past (this Wall Street Journal piece from last week got a lot of it). And since I haven’t been able to actually take the store and software out for a run, I can’t vouch for any of it so far.

But here’s what you need to know at the start:

  • Google is opening its own store, but the big goal is to set up an ecosystem and e-commerce channel that works across the Web.
  • That means you can buy ebooks directly from Google, and you can also buy books from the sites of independent book shops, like Powell’s Books.
  • That also means you can read the books on multiple platforms: There’s an Android app, of course. But there’s also an Apple-approved app in the iTunes store. And since the system is Web-based, you can read the books you buy on PCs and tablets, too. As well as e-readers from Sony, Barnes & Noble and Borders. The only place you can’t read Google-purchased titles–Amazon’s Kindle.
  • Google says its catalog will be competitive with everyone else’s, though it’s hard to assess that without really digging in. It says it will have some three million books available in the store, “hundreds of thousands” of which which are commercial titles. Amazon, by comparison, boasts of 750,000 titles, but it’s including periodicals in that total.
  • One distinct advantage Google has over a particular rival: Unlike Apple, it has access to Random House titles, which aren’t available on the iBooks platform due to a dispute about pricing.
  • Speaking of pricing: Google says it supports both the traditional wholesale/retail model, as well as the new “agency” model that Apple has been pushing.
  • Where’s all this going? Good question! Google executives argue that this is just a natural extension of its ongoing books project, which is supposed to make as many books available to as many people, period–it’s just that they happen to be selling some of them now. But view it from a different lens, and it looks like yet another attempt by Google to move from pointing to stuff, and selling ads along the way, to selling stuff, period. It hasn’t worked yet, but the company seems dead set on making a go of it.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald