Google’s announcement that it plans to enter the ebook space is hardly a surprise given the search giant indicated such intentions as part of its class action lawsuit settlement with book publishers earlier this year. How Google manifests its interest in the ebook space and what parts of the value chain it assumes is where things get interesting.
News stories stated that Google is looking to support a variety of reading venues, ranging from PCs to dedicated readers, implicitly inferring it will more fully support the universal e-reader standard, .epub and perhaps fully rendered .pdfs as opposed to Amazon who supports unprotected books in Mobipocket format as well as its own proprietary DRM-ed format, .azw. Amazon supports .pdfs across its Kindle family of devices, but there are some rendering issues noted for files in that Adobe format.
Google will not likely build a device, but would encourage carrier partners such as T-Mobile, who currently offer smartphones powered by Google’s Anrdoid OS, to distribute devices (smartphones, dedicated readers) that act as a showcase for Google’s ebook service. Would such a move force Apple’s hand to move more quickly on its rumored media tablet?
Google, as an ebook enabler, does put pressure on those powers in the emerging digital warehouse space such as Libre Digital, Ingram Content Group (the new name for Ingram Digital), Publishing Technologies and even Scribd. With Android, Google could open up its platform to developers who could create compelling reading experiences suited for a variety of devices and different consumer groups. Again, such a move puts pressure on Apple and its plans to offer an e-reading ecosystem.
At the end of the day, it will be publishers who will have the biggest say in who controls new digital distribution scenarios. If there’s any company publishers are more leery of than Amazon, it’s Google. Is the devil they know better they know than the devil they don’t? If this distrust remains potent enough, emerging players in the digital distribution space and perhaps Adobe, a name synonymous with publishing tools, may be best positioned to take book, newspaper and magazine publishers to the promised digital land.