Big changes for independent booksellers this week as Google turned on their Ebooks service and made it available to all booksellers, in all formats except Amazon’s proprietary Kindle book reader.
The implications of this are truly huge – in one swoop the face of bookselling changed forever. And mostly for the good, as far as I can see.
What this means to you is that if you’ve ever wanted to read an entire book on any electronic device at all – your laptop, smartphone, Nook, Sony E Reader, IPad, name it, you now have access to more than 400,000 books for purchase from more than 4,000 publisher, plus another two million titles – yes, two million – in the public domain, these last at no cost to you whatsoever.
Of course, ink on paper is not going away. Don’t fret. It’s just one more way to read.
If you’d like to take a look for yourself, google “google books” or more specifically direct your browser here and look around. On the first page you will see a variety of full-color book jackets and links to all the rest. Readers can access electronic books directly from Google, or use the talents and suggestions of a favorite bookstore and order the same books from them.
All of these Google Ebooks are available from any device connected to the Internet. Browse, choose, pay if required, download, and begin reading. Since your book resides in the “cloud,” not on any particular computer, you can break off and continue reading on the same or any other available computer or phone.
For example, you might download to your computer a copy of “The Best Spiritual Writing 2010" edited by Pico Iyer and Philip Zalesky. Maybe at home you have time to read the introduction and the first essay. Later in the day, at lunchtime, you resume reading for a half hour – to do that you log in on whatever computer is in front of you. Later that evening you want to read again, this time on your wife’s new IPad. Log in and that book and any others you’ve download will be waiting for you. Google remembers what page you were reading. Preferences for type size and line spacing are preserved. As time goes on you begin to appreciate Google’s free and unlimited storage space.
You can read offline on most devices, except your home computer. Google’s working on that, too.
From what I have heard and seen, independent booksellers are excited to offer Ebooks to readers who previously had to search elsewhere for them.
Many readers, of course, are cautious. One wrote, “I'm not a huge fan of Ebooks. Few reasons, one of them is I just don't read enough, I couldn't justify the cost of buying a dedicated device. Also, I'm one of those people who still buys CDs, because I like to have the physical copy on my shelf.”
Another reader said, “Ebooks that can't be given away to a grandchild 50 years from now are not a deal. That is my largest issue with them. I shouldn't have to ‘hack’ an e-book format to use it ‘like a book’ in 5 or 50 years.”
Another said, “If it's a book I figure I'll only read once, I typically go for a hard copy that I can then give to someone else.”
On the Lifehacker site someone named CV posted: “Physical books are conversation starters. E-book readers? Not so much. I will strike up conversations with total strangers if I see them holding a book that's intriguing. It's similar at home (mine or someone else's). You can look at someone's bookcase and figure out a lot about a person...
“I have one shelf full of travel guidebooks to places I have been. Sure, the electronic versions are great while you're out on the street (looking at a smartphone or iPod doesn't tip anyone that you're a tourist), however, there's a satisfaction of occasionally glancing at that shelf which triggers memories of those trips. Those are things you can't replace with electronic books.”
CV concluded with this thought: “I would love to have electronic copies of all of my cookbooks. That would come in handy for searching.”
Of course, right now there are some gotchas, glitches, and shortcomings. But it’s a start, and kudos to Google for helping democratize the emerging universe of electronic books.
All this is very new, and there are shortcomings. For example, what should a reader do when the price of an Ebook on the Google site differs from the price on a favorite bookseller’s site? Or worse, when an Ebook featured on Google is nowhere to be found inside a bookseller site? This last happened to me just now, and it’s frustrating. But I trust these kinds of things will be fixed soon.
If you’d like Google’s help figuring all this out...
Here are links to some of the early crop of articles on Google’s new service:
Mashable... Bloomberg... Christian Science Monitor...
Fast Company... Literary Agent Andy Ross... Bookselling This Week...
(Independent Bookstore McClean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Minnesota) and Ink, Pulp & Caffeine...
New York Times: “The Google e-bookstore is an outgrowth of the Google books project, an effort that began in 2004 to scan all 130 million books in the world, by Google's estimate. Scott Dougall, Google's director for product management, said the company had scanned about 15 million books so far.”