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Google Begins Selling E-Books

Challenging Apple and Amazon, Google claims to be the largest e-book provider.

Google on Monday launched its long-anticipated digital book selling platform, Google eBooks, formerly known as Google Editions.

Google product management director Scott Dougall says that Google's e-book platform differs from Amazon's and Apple's in its openness. "Our approach is really more of an open ecosystem about encouraging the adoption of books across different platforms and retailers," he said in a phone briefing.

Having scanned some 15 million books in over 100 countries and almost resolved a lawsuit over its scanning of orphaned works -- books out of print but still under copyright -- Google is ready to take the next step: selling digital books.

The company has partnered with over 4,000 publishers to sell e-books that can be read on the Web and on Web-enabled devices. Google eBooks will be protected from unauthorized copying through digital locks, or DRM, but they will be portable across devices. The e-books will be tied to a Google Account.

To enable e-book portability, Google plans to release Web reader software for browsers, and Android and iPhone reader apps. Google eBooks will also be accessible on devices that support e-book files in PDF or EPUB formats, like the Sony Reader.

Dougall says that Google now has the largest collection of e-books -- over 3 million -- though most of those are free, public domain titles. Amazon offers access to 1.8 million free, public domain titles for its Kindle.

The number of e-books that Google is offering for sale at launch -- several hundred thousand and growing -- is significantly less than the 725,000 books in Amazon's U.S. Kindle Store. Apple hasn't disclosed exactly how many e-books it has for sale in its iBookstore, but the number is estimated to be about 30,000.

Google eBooks will be available from Google and from online retail partners, a group that initially includes Powell's, Alibris, and participating members of the American Booksellers Association.

One area where Google isn't being open is pricing. Dougall says that in all cases, publishers receive the majority of revenue from e-book sales but adds that the specific percentages are determined on a case-by-case basis. He declined to provide more exact figures. Outdated documentation published when the project was called Google Editions set the standard revenue share for publishers at 52%.

Amazon offers publishers 70% of revenue for Kindle e-books and magazines. Apple likewise offers publishers 70% of revenue for iBook sales.

Research firm Forrester expects e-book sales will nearly triple by 2015, rising from an estimated $966 million this year to $2.8 billion.

Update: Changed number of Google eBooks for sale from over 100,000 to several hundred thousand. The company won't say exactly how many it is selling but insists the number is significantly more than 100,000.

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