Today, Google said it will launch its own e-book store in the first half of 2010 called “Google Editions.” This store will sell in-print books in addition to its archive of public domain titles, and will be accessible to “any device with a Web browser,” not just for the dedicated e-readers that have gained so much notoriety in the past few years. Users will reportedly need to be connected to the Web to initially obtain their books, but they are then cached for offline consumption.
Google has long been expected to enter this space, and did not mention this week with whom it intends to partner in the hardware space. But reading headlines today, you’d think this was the first melee in a full-scale war between Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Google. Some have called it an “e-book fight,” some an “eReader war,” and then there was the inexplicably silly “Google wants you dead, Amazon!”
The funny thing is, without any e-reader or e-book sales data to go on, the notion that there’s even a healthy market for the products is pure speculation at this point. The market is building in anticipation of the eventual demand for e-books.
Amazon, which leads the market for both e-readers and downloadable e-books, does not disclose its sales figures. In-Stat estimated that 2008 worldwide e-reader sales were only around 1 million, but predicted that by 2013, it will be up to 29 million. Similarly, iSuppli estimated that around 18 million e-reader units will be sold in 2012.
That’s really not that big, considering that halfway through next year, there will be well over a dozen manufacturers with multiple e-reader products on the market: Amazon, Sony, iRex, LG, Samsung, Asus, Toshiba, Plastic Logic, Endless Ideas, Astak, Bookeen, Elonex, Foxit, Interead, and many more names you may have never heard of.
While increasing the competition and selection does stimulate consumption, it also dilutes the market.
In terms of content, the Association of American Publishers said e-book sales have risen 214% in the last two years. Of course, the largest percentage of growth usually takes place when a service is at its smallest; and even after this substantial growth, e-books still only accounted for 1% of books sold by major publishers. This does not take into account the increasing number of DIY publishers, public domain downloads, and converted/non-e-book texts.
Google Editions is expected to be made up of three of these disparate distribution methods: Users will be able to buy e-books digitized in Google’s library, from the publisher directly, or from a partner third-party book site.