Google eBooks are here! They’ve been rumored for months, and everyone’s been expecting great things. Are they the best thing since sliced bread, or are they just another me-too offering? Let’s look at the good and the bad, and what it might take to really make an impact in today’s ebook market.
-Digital rights management: While it’s disappointing that DRM is still necessary, at least Google is using Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). This is the same quasi-universal standard supported by the Aluratek Libre, the Kobo Readers, Sony Readers, even the NOOK. In fact, the only major device that doesn’t support it is the Kindle. Basically, it opens up a big hardware world for Google.
-iOS and Android apps: Dedicated apps right out of the gate are a must, especially when you can hit tablets and smartphones simultaneously. I can’t comment on the iOS version, but for Android, this is definitely split, and you’ll have to look in “The Bad” for more.
-Involvement of smaller bookstores: Google eBooks is going to be powering smaller bookstore eBookstores, so every bookseller out there with a website can sell ebooks. More retailers is definitely a good thing!
-Online reading: I put this in more of a mixed bag category, but even browser-based reading is better than locking the books away unless accessed by a smartphone or ebook reader. And it doesn’t require installing a desktop app, making it flexible and multiple-device friendly.
-Wireless sync: Syncing across multiple apps/websites is pretty much necessary. It would be a huge embarrassment for Google, leader of the internets if Kobo, B&N, and Amazon could all pull off such a simple sync feature and Google couldn’t.
-Android app: It’s really, really mediocre. It doesn’t offer the ability to change background colors (only night/day), there’s no landscape reading ability, and you can’t highlight or bookmark. The user interface is fairly boring. There’s nothing remotely special about it, and it doesn’t even offer the same basic features that the Kindle and NOOK apps offer with respect to highlighting.
-Questionable advertising: “3 MILLION TITLES” sounds really exciting, and like Google has done something special. The reality is that most of those titles are the public domain ones Google has scanned. On a mainstream, commercial book basis I’d say Google probably has the same number of titles as B&N, Amazon and possibly Kobo. They’re just fluffing up their numbers to look better, and while that’s totally fine, don’t get suckered into thinking there’s something special here. If your favorite (current) author isn’t supporting ebooks, they aren’t going to show up on Google eBooks and not in Amazon or B&N.
-Boring: There’s absolutely nothing special about Google eBooks. It’s just like any other eBookstore (and thanks to the magic of agency pricing, it’s not even cheaper!) Worst of all, it’s actually LACKING in features compared to Amazon and B&N. You can’t highlight or take notes, and you can’t even BOOKMARK. It’s just a big yawner. Very disappointing, especially coming from Google, a company with the brain and fiscal power to actually innovate…but they didn’t.
So what could shake up the ebook market?
What disappoints me is that Google could have done more. Why can’t you send a buzz sharing your favorite portion of a book? Or highlight and sync notes to Google docs? Better yet, why not work out a discount on a Google Edition of the NY Times if I follow their RSS feed through Google Reader? There are dozens of ways to connect ebooks to other Google services, and it just isn’t happening.
Or, here’s a really big way to shake things up: Why couldn’t Google fight for no DRM on some books? If Google had been able to sell major titles DRM-free, available in ePUB and Kindle formats, that would have sent shockwaves through the industry. All it would take is one publisher giving it a try, and with how frightened they all are of Amazon’s marketshare Google would have had some leverage to ask for change. Instead, we get another me-too offering, one that doesn’t offer a compelling reason to switch from existing buying patterns. I’d love to believe Google has something big up their sleeves, but between delays and a general lack of serious enthusiasm, I think this is more of a “let’s a get a foothold just in case” hobby then a serious attempt to hone in on a new market.
Clearly, I’m really unimpressed so far. I’ve used Kobo, eReader, B&N, Amazon, FBReader, Aldiko, Stanza, etc…basically every major and not so major ebook reader and store. There’s nothing that makes me want to break from the stores I already like to give Google a try, especially since it means I’d have to take a giant step backward in features. What do you think of Google Editions? Am I being too harsh in leaving this one on the shelf?