Google’s E-Book Store: Five Burning Questions

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Google reminded us this week that the company's e-book retail platform, Google Editions, will launch sometime in the next two months, as expected. Google Editions will be device agnostic, (similar to how Amazon allows Kindle books to be read on almost any computer platform), but will rely on the Web to deliver and store a user's purchases, instead of direct device downloads like the Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and Apple's iBookstore.

There's no word on pricing yet, but Google plans to offer its bookstore catalog to almost any retailer who wishes to participate, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Google Editions sounds interesting, and could prove popular, but there are still a lot of unanswered questions about the new e-book platform. Here are five questions that come to mind:

Let there be apps?

When Google first announced Google Editions, the company said the new service would be accessible on any device with a Web browser. This suggested that Google would rely on users to install Web apps, which are essentially shortcut icons to a Web page, on their devices or just bookmark the Google Editions site in their browsers.

But The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Google may decide to build mobile apps to "optimize reading on certain devices like an iPhone or iPad." That would be a wise decision on Google's part since downloadable applications have proved to be far more popular with users than Web apps.

Android advantage?

Will Google Editions offer any extra perks to mobile Android users? Google typically offers most of its services to any user on any platform. Still, there are a few perks to being in the Android-only club, such as free turn-by-turn GPS in Google Maps, and Google's innovative search function, Google Goggles. The search giant says Goggles is coming to other platforms too, but that hasn't happened yet. I have to wonder if Android users will be offered any special functions on Google Editions, at least at launch.

Will Editions help the little guy?

An interesting part of Google's approach with Editions is that any retailer can offer a Google Editions online bookstore. Amazon offers a similar service through its affiliate program, but Google may offer more competitive terms to encourage smaller booksellers to adopt an online bookstore.

I wonder if this will help struggling smaller bookstores. On the one hand, smaller bookstores tend to be more specialized and have more knowledgeable staff than the massive book chains. So perhaps that experience will enable smaller retailers to craft interesting and unique online offerings.

Then again, the whole point of an online bookstore is that you can sell almost anything a potential customer wants, since your digital shelf space is virtually limitless. So would specialized online bookstores with a limited or narrow focus make sense? What else could a smaller retailer do to make its online offerings more popular than the larger retailers like Amazon?

What about the features?

The great thing about the Kindle format is that it bookmarks the last page you read, which allows you to pick up where you left off using any device with a Kindle app. Will Google Editions offer similar bookmarking features? Also, what about annotations? Will you be able to make notes, highlight passages, or copy-and-paste text using Google Editions?

New E-book formats?

Will Google Editions just be glorified Web pages that open up the opportunity for new and different ways to interact with books? Could a publisher embed video, for example, to illustrate a point in a text book? What about links to any cited news sources or events in non-fiction books? Or would that cause too many rendering problems as people move between different browsers such as Firefox at home, Internet Explorer in the office and the iPhone's Safari browser during commutes?

Also, I also have to wonder if Google's new offering will catch on with the book buying public. There are so many competing platforms already available from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Apple, and others, so what will Google Editions offer to set it apart?

Connect with Ian on Twitter (@ianpaul).

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