Google Editions: What We Know (and Don’t Know)
By Eric Freese, Aptara Solutions Architect
Publishers are just recovering from the earth-shaking impact of the iPad release and the next tremor may already be on the way. It has been widely reported that Google will be releasing their “cloud bookstore,” known as Editions, sometime this summer with upwards of 4 million books available.
Such staggering volume begs the question − what do we know about Google Editions? The answer, unfortunately, is not a heckuva lot.
This article summarizes what those “in the know” are saying, what the rumor mill is spinning, and what Google, with its tight lips, has inferred.
It is assumed that initially Editions will cover only books submitted by publishers, probably launching with 400,000 to 600,000 to start, many more than Apple currently has in the entire iBookstore. The settlement between Google, authors and publishers over Google’s scanning of books that are in copyright but out-of-print (aka Google Books) has not yet been approved by the courts. Whether Google plans to sell the out-of-copyright books has also not been announced, but it is assumed that they may be available to readers through Editions.
Google plans for the books to be read through a web browser rather than a specific reading program or device. They have also mentioned the possibility of building software to optimize reading for certain devices, like the iPad, but haven’t announced any specific plans. Since books are read from ‘the cloud,’ it is assumed that you must have internet access. What’s not clear is what the browser requirements might be and whether an on-device browser, like the Kindle’s, will support Editions.
While Google has said that nearly all U.S. publishers (20,000+) will be included in the Editions bookstore, no publishers have yet publically announced their participation. Since most publishers favor having as many outlets as possible, it is safe to assume that many of the large ones will be on board when the time comes. Editions is planned in such a way that book retailers, including independent booksellers, can use Editions to sell books from their own websites and keep most of the revenue.
Google Editions & EPUB
There hasn’t been any announcement that specifically states that Editions will support the EPUB standard. However, in an interview at BookExpo America this May, a Google manager stated that books that are downloaded, rather than cached, would be available using Adobe ACS4 DRM. ACS4 supports PDF and EPUB. So we can speculate that there may be EPUB support. Google Books also supports download of books in the EPUB format, so there is a precedent.
Cost & Price
As is typical, Google plans to derive most of its revenue from Editions through advertising, and hasn’t alluded yet as to what prices books will be sold (competitive is the best estimate right now), what pricing model they will use, or what cut they will take. Several sources have reported that publishers will be able to name their own price for their Editions books. Other sources have reported that Google will give publishers 63% of revenues from eBooks sold directly to customers, and 45% for those sold through retailers, with a small share going to Google.
At this time it appears that multimedia will not be supported within Google Editions, and it is not clear whether live links will be supported.
Print on Demand
Google has been quoted as saying that they would like to provide this capability, but it will be largely dependent on publishers as to whether it will be supported on a book by book basis.
The last wave of articles about Editions included new rumors that Google was exploring the idea of building their own tablet. The speculation that it will be supported by Verizon Wireless has recently been confirmed in several articles, including by Verizon. It’s not known if the tablet will be based on Android or Google’s new Chrome OS, although most guesses are with Android.
While there’s no confirmation of its existence, Google has been posting mock-ups of what a tablet running Chrome might look like. With more than 3 million iPads already sold, any new device will have to be pretty special to catch-up, let alone overtake it. That being said, the Android OS is giving the iPhone OS a run for its money, so anything is possible.
What does this mean for publishers? Most of the money being spent for iPad apps will need to be spent again if they want to support apps on a Google tablet.
To reduce or prevent this, proactive publishers and their partners should start developing enhanced eBooks and apps in ways that enable reuse and multi-platform support. This includes the use of open, non-proprietary standards (e.g. HTML5 instead of Flash, MP4 or OGG instead of QuickTime, etc.) among other things.
Tune in to the upcoming DBW WEBcast, eBooks vs. Apps: The Pros, Cons and Possibilities, to learn more about creating enhanced eBooks and apps with an eye to the future.
Eric Freese is a Solutions Architect with Aptara, which provides digital publishing solutions that deliver significant gains in quality, time-to-market and production costs for eBook publishers.