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Ebooks have been called the cornerstone of a new literary economy, and blamed for the slow death of so-called “tree books.” But recent spats between publishers and Amazon over pricing, and Apple over content control, have made the ebook market seem slightly less rosy.
Now, Google could change the game (again) with the long-awaited launch of Google Editions, its “universal format” ebook store.
Some believe that ebooks, and accompanying ebook readers like the Kindle, are the future of print publishing. But for now, it appears that publishers are more likely to see them as a potential industry-killer.
Case in point: two large publishers, Simon & Schuster and Hachette Book Group, announced the other day that they'd delay releasing ebook versions of some new books for four months after the hardcovers hit the shelves. The reason? It's one way to fight back against the lowly prices seen in the ebook market, where most bestsellers now cost less than $10.
Google runs the risk of a serious and potentially damaging investigation into monopolistic or anti-competitive practises. The search engine has been careful not to fall foul of the strict American rules but will a careless slip with eBooks cost them dear?
Google's bread and butter may be search and the recession may have led Google to cut back on projects that weren't bringing home the bacon but that doesn't mean that Google isn't looking to expand its already large footprint on the web.
It just announced that by the end of the year, it hopes to be offering its publishing partners the ability to sell ebooks through Google Book Search, putting it in competition with Amazon in the burgeoning ebook market.
When asked about netbooks earlier this year, Apple COO Tim Cook didn't beat around the bush: "They have cramped keyboards, terrible software, junky hardware, very small screens, and just not a consumer experience, and not something that we would put the Mac brand on, quite frankly".
That's fine, but the reality is that netbooks have made a huge mark on the market and have been given credit for driving much of the growth in the PC market. It's not hard to see why: for $300 or less in some cases, consumers can have an internet-capable 'mini-laptop'. In this economy, it's safe to say that many netbooks have been sold to consumers who otherwise would not have made a laptop purchase due to price considerations.
Amazon has quickly emerged as the leader in the nascent eBook market, but a company launching today has the potential to change all that.
Amazon has the upper hand versus Sony's Reader because of its prolific backlog of content. Most important to their foothold is the way that they control content. Books purchased in the Amazon store are only viewable on the Kindle and the Kindle iPhone app. But if a company can undercut Amazon's prices and get access to the same quality content, they could unseat Amazon.
It would be easy to feel a bit sorry for Barnes & Noble. It is the biggest brick and mortar bookseller in North America, fighting the good fight for literacy against a tide of economic disaster. It has been laid waste by the internet and in particular, Amazon, one of the most innovative companies ever. Competing against Amazon in the 90s was kind of like playing Michael Jordan in his rookie season. You just didn't know how good he was until you lost to him. Then, after the B&N business model was hit hard, the printed page is being attacked by eBooks.
But this here is business, young man, and it's no time for the faint of heart. No longer is B&N employing the the "if you can't beat 'em don't join 'em" strategy. It has finally, and admirably, made a move that doesn't involve closing stores. Late last week it purchased Fictionwise, an eBook retailer that is rumored to be developing a Kindle-competitor, hand-held eBook reader.