The Google gauntlet has been thrown. Yesterday’s New York Times article offers more detail on Google’s BEA announcement of plans (Tom Turvey: “This time we mean it”) to sell e-books directly by the end of 2009.
Turvey, director of Strategic Partnerships at Google, went on to say:
Google’s program would allow consumers to read books on any device with Internet access, including mobile phones, rather than being limited to dedicated reading devices like the Amazon Kindle. “We don’t believe that having a silo or a proprietary system is the way that e-books will go,” he said.
Let’s stroll away from top-level cost/benefit analysis (book customers—good!, Amazon—bad!, e-readers/eRetailers—bad?, publishers—bad/good/goodbad?) for now and talk about what this shift means for the market as a whole.
I’m all for information being free and am not (personally) a huge fan of either DRM or proprietary formats of any kind. Google, as a proponent and provider of free content for all, has always been a white knight in the democratization of information. Does that white uniform become a little greyer now that they are going to be selling, rather than giving, books away?
The power of Amazon is such that only an equally formidable competitor could stand a chance. The charitable view is that Google sees the market moving towards a monopoly and determined the only thing they could do was step in and provide a (more) open alternative: device-neutral, publisher-price-set, read ‘em on your laptop if you want to books.
Less charitable: with revenue streams like Adwords etc flattening, new channels have to be opened up. YouTube hasn’t yet found a viable business model but now Google Book Search has. Maybe. Whether this rebranding actually sticks—whether the average consumer is willing to pay for Google content which has to date been by definition free—remains to be seen.