The launch of the Google eBookstore this week breaks new ground against established players such as Amazon and B&N by instituting cross-platform, Web browser-based access to eBooks, some of which are available free of charge to users.
Unlike other major online bookstores, Google’s store doesn't require the use of a dedicated device or local application. Web access is all that is required. However, Google is offering applications for the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Android devices. Google eBooks will also work with eReaders that support the EPUB and PDF standard.
Also in contrast to the rest of the pack, Google lets you store books you've been reading in its cloud. So, you can pick up right on the page where you've left off whenever you log back in to the site, from whatever device you're using at the time.
Content Galore, But Few Features
An early look at this week shows that Google's new site offers some of the same kinds of features available elsewhere, such as a recommendation engine to other titles you might like, a section for New York Times best-sellers, and reviews by both other readers and book critic pros.
Content on the site is decidedly expansive. Google eBooks already contains about 3 million scanned books, and the list of titles could grow to more than 50 million once Google works through the final legal snares.
On the other hand, though, Google's cross-platform approach access lacks many of the cool bells-and-whistles you can get with dedicated devices: annotation tools, color graphics, and the NookColor's magazine library, to name a few.
Right now, at least, the Google site doesn't give you any opportunity to buy a book in hard copy, if that's your preference.
Still, it's s bit refreshing to go to an eBooks site that isn't doubling as a merchandising engine for other goods, whether that means eReaders, hard copy books, music DVDs, clothing, toys, gift certificates, key rings, or paper-based bookmarks.
Even Borders performs this sort of real world-to-cyberspace cross-marketing, Although Borders doesn't produce an eReader of its own, the large brick-and-mortar-based book seller pitches the devices of its partners on its Web site.
Works with Other eReaders
Because Google eBooks supports the open EPUB and PDF file types, it's possible to also read eBooks purchased through Google eBooks on dedicated eReaders. The list of eReaders includes:
The popular Amazon Kindle uses a proprietary eBook format and it will only work with eBooks purchased through the Amazon bookstore. However, Kindle owners desperate to access Google eBooks can read the web version of the books through what Amazon calls the Kindle's "experimental" web browser.
(Ed: Line added 12/08 to specify that Kindle owners can view Google eBooks through the Kindle web browser.)
Moreover, a bit along the lines of Kobobooks, Google is offering some of its e-titles for absolutely zilch. Where Kobo's free selections favor contemporary novels and nonfiction, Google's free books tend toward the classics. Yet some of Google's free eBooks seem clearly targeted at gaining a quick advantage over B&N and Amazon.
For instance, two of Google's new free choices – Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities – just so happen to be this month's picks for Oprah's popular book club. Meanwhile B&N had already started selling a bundle of those two titles for $11.11 in hard copy and $7.99 as eBooks.
To its credit, Kobo has pioneered in letting you download books for later reading on a range of platforms. That's a real benefit, of course, to anyone who reads on subways, planes, or anywhere else where you might find yourself without Internet access. To download books on to any of Kobo's many supported platforms, though, you first need to install a special software app.
There are other free eBooks sites, too. Yet some -- such as Dwain, an open directory with plain text files for download -- provide a reading experience that's definitely on the kludgy side.
Google eBooks isn't entirely elegant yet, either. We experienced a few glitches, for example, in trying to preview books. Either the preview content didn't always appear in the designated window, or all you got was the title page.
For whatever reasons, a lot of the titles on Google eBooks still lack online reviews, including some titles that are centuries-old.
Yet if Google works to improve its new eBooks site, it could well turn out that some rival eBook sellers will start regretting those heavy investments in dedicated eReader devices.
Google Explains the Bookstore
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