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Google To Sell E-Books

The company wants to find common ground with authors, who have complained about copyright violations through services like Google Book Search.

Thomas Claburn

June 1, 2009

3 Min Read

Google plans later this year to begin distributing and selling e-books on behalf of its publishing partners, the company confirmed on Monday.

"We've consistently maintained that we're committed to helping our partners find more ways to make their books accessible and available for purchase," Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker said in an e-mail. "By end of this year, we hope to give publisher partners an additional way to sell their books by allowing users to purchase access to partner program books online. We want to build and support a digital book ecosystem to allow our partner publishers to make their books available for purchase from any Web-enabled device."

Google is anxious to find common ground with authors, who have complained about copyright violations in the past through services like Google Book Search. Formerly known as Google Print, Google Book Search was introduced in 2004 and targeted by publishers and their lawyers the following year for digitizing books without the permission of copyright holders. A proposed settlement of that lawsuit is currently being reviewed by the courts and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Last month, the University of Michigan said that it had amended its book-scanning agreement with Google. The contractual concessions show a company more interested in compromise than prolonging yet another copyright-related conflict.

Google also faces discontent from the Associated Press, which has reportedly been pressing Google to rank its news reports more prominently than derivative articles.

Google's e-book sales service will be made available to participants in the Google Book Service Partner Program, a marketing program for promoting books through Google Book Search. If Google succeeds in making peace with authors and publishers, it may find itself competing more directly against Amazon.com.

Amazon gave up competing against Google Search in 2006 when it closed its A9 search engine, but Amazon Web Services, the company's on-demand computing infrastructure service, remains a strong contender against Google App Engine.

With its Kindle e-book reading devices, Amazon has been building the infrastructure and market for electronic texts on portable devices, a transition in reading technology that's been anticipated for a decade, but never fully realized.

Now, after years of false starts, the era of the e-book may be about to begin in earnest.

Apple will soon release its iPhone 3.0 operating system, which features in-app content-purchasing support. This will bring e-book sales opportunities to the iPhone's many e-book reading apps. And Apple is rumored to be working on tablet computing device, a form factor ideal for reading e-books. Other players, like Sony, see a future in e-books, too.

Google didn't immediately respond to questions about whether it would sell e-books in an open or protected format. The company already offers over 1.5 million public domain books for free to users of Android mobile phones, Apple's iPhone, and the Internet. It also allows people to search through millions more books sold online and provides links to online stores selling those books.

Once Google starts selling e-books directly, Amazon may have to add a caveat to its claim that it "offers Earth's Biggest Selection."

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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