Digital Directions: Google’s eBookstore: A Rising Tide
With a P.T. Barnum-like flourish, Google launched its eBookstore as "the largest e-books collection in the world!" Over 3 million titles! Step right up! Best-sellers and public-domain titles!
Google made good on its commitment of launching the eBookstore before the end of 2010, and 2011 will be an interesting year for the e-book world.
The launch of the Google eBookstore is the most significant event in the evolution of the e-book marketplace since the launch of the Amazon Kindle, to which it represents the most direct threat.
A New DRM Standard
Both the Google eBookstore and the Amazon Kindle represent a complete cross-device delivery ecosystem, capable of managing delivery of customers' purchases across an array of devices, not locked into a single proprietary device.
The new wrinkle is the manner in which the Google eBookstore supports cross-device digital rights management (DRM): Google has deployed Adobe Content Server 4 (ACS4) as the DRM platform for its eBookstore. ACS4 is the most promising standard cross-device DRM solution, and Google's adoption of it clearly will accelerate its emergence as a DRM standard.
While the eBookstore launch was anticipated, Google's adoption of ACS4 is real news. It heralds a new phase in the evolution of the e-book marketplace, even more than the launching of the eBookstore itself. ACS4 has the potential of being a democratizing standard, allowing smaller booksellers to create their own secure means of distributing and protecting e-books outside of a major commerce partner such as Amazon.
Google's adoption of ACS4 has enabled them to create channel relationships with independent booksellers to advertise and sell Google e-books and share the revenue. While the Kindle program provides a cross-device ecosystem, Google eBookstore—with the use of ACS4—represents a cross-channel, cross-device ecosystem. This allows many more players in the publishing community to get involved, not just in the creation of e-book titles, but also in their sale.
Google eBookstore may, however, have a tough time eroding Kindle's customer base. The Kindle crowd is a loyal lot. Few Kindle users—or anyone else—would prefer the Google eBookstore buying experience. It is consistent with Google's minimalist design approach, yet seems an oddly primitive e-commerce experience. However, while Google eBookstore may never be able to provide as complete an e-commerce platform as Amazon, it will most efficiently convert the process of discovery (search) to sale. And that may serve to bring in new customers to the world of e-books.
Rather than poaching Kindle customers, eBookstore will support a somewhat different customer scenario. A customer initiates a Kindle purchase by interacting with Amazon.com or within a Kindle application—they already know they are interested in books. However, an eBookstore purchase often may be initiated in the course of a general Web search—with the searcher not necessarily looking to purchase an e-book. Therefore, eBookstore has the promise not so much of stealing Kindle's slice of the pie, but of increasing the size of the pie.
A Rising Tide
Google's emergence as an e-book retailer is not without concern. It is sometimes hard to dance with such a big partner, especially when priorities are not aligned with one's own. What, for example, would happen if Google were to find that the advertising revenue generated by people browsing e-books was greater than the revenue from selling e-books? The eBookstore experience would be quite different if Google's revenue was based more on browsing rather than buying.
Despite these concerns, eBookstore contributes to the evolution of the marketplace in three positive ways:
1. It eliminates Amazon's dominance of the e-book marketplace.
2. It encourages the emergence of new e-book distribution channels through the adoption of ACS4.
3. It increases the size of the e-book marketplace by converting Web searchers to book buyers.
At the moment it appears to be a rising tide to lift all ships. BB
Andrew Brenneman is founder of Finitiv (Finitiv.com), a consulting and services organization that develops and executes transformative digital strategy for publishers and other content organizations.
Don't miss the session "Books in the Cloud: Google's Perspective," at the 2011 Publishing Business Conference & Expo, April 4-6, 2011, in New York City. Visit PublishingBusiness.com to register or for more information.
Coming Next Issue: A New Era of Book Marketing … plus, The State of the Printing Industry
… While Google eBookstore may never be able to provide as complete an e-commerce platform as Amazon, it will most efficiently convert the process of discovery (search) to sale.