Looks like Google Books is taking some tentative steps towards being more than just a hobby. The folks at Google have fired a shot across the bow of Amazon, B&N, and Kobo by partnering with iRiver to offer an ebook reader with integrated Google Books access.
According to the Google Blog:
We built the Google eBooks platform to be open to all publishers, retailers and manufacturers. Manufacturers like iRiver can use Google Books APIs and services to connect their devices to the full Google eBooks catalog for out-of-the-box access to a complete ebookstore. You can also store your personal ebooks library in the cloud—picking up where you left off in any ebook you’re reading as you move from laptop to smartphone to e-reader to tablet.
In December, Google eBooks launched with the ability to read Google eBooks on any device with a modern browser, on Android and iOS devices using the Google Books mobile apps, through our Chrome Web Store app and on compatible eReaders. Since then, we’ve added new retailers—growing to include more than 250 independent bookstores—and made Google eBooks available in Android Market. We’ve also extended our affiliate network and updated our family of Google Books APIs.
The Story HD is a new milestone for us, as iRiver becomes the first manufacturer to launch an e-reader integrated with Google eBooks. You can learn more about the Story HD on the iRiver website.
This has a lot of potential to shake up the ebook world. Right now, the only truly “successful” ebook readers have been the Kindle, the NOOK line, and to a lesser extent the Kobo and Sony Readers. The market has been flooded with many cheap alternatives, but none of these have had the bragging rights of an established store and brand behind them. Until now. Google specifically says iRiver is the first manufacturer to integrate with Google Books. Sounds to me like they’re sniffing around doing an Android-style model, where multiple manufacturers can integrate Google’s offerings into their hardware.
What’s the advantage here? For one, ebook readers are growing faster than tablets. And many of the lesser known brands are cheaper too, from the Jetbook Lite and Aluratek Libre to Pandigital’s various lines. Not to mention, Google has been courting an army of independent booksellers. With a bench of hardware choices, independents could not only offer ebooks but devices as well, opening up a new venue to increase customer loyalty and add revenue (just look at how B&N has managed to turn ebooks into a way to draw customers into their stores.)
Right now the iRiver Story HD is just a quick toe dip. It’s exclusive to Target, only a quasi-competitive price at $140, and, well, it’s clearly a Kindle knockoff. So selling it for the same price as a Kindle while stocking it next to a Kindle is not exactly giving it a boost in the marketplace. But combine that with the news that Google is integrating books more heavily into the Android marketplace, and you see that this isn’t a side project, but pieces being moved onto the content chessboard…and Google isn’t interested in just playing with the pawns.