Some thoughts on Google’s eBookstore

Paul Oliver, over at MobyLives, reviews the new Google eBookstore venture, and finds it neat but wanting.  For one thing, his downloaded copy of A Tale of Two Cities came complete with a scan of the contributing library’s aged book pocket, stamped with past borrowers’ dates.  For another, it was volume two…of a two-volume set.

Google’s cataloging, OCR quality, and organization of its digital book files seem to be still stumbling around a little, like a toddler just learning to walk.  In a separate MobyLives post, more than a few sticky cataloging and quality-of-information glitches were exposed.  (Mae West biographies filed under “Religion,” anyone?)  It seems likely that these problems will be cleaned up before too long, but for now at least, caveat searcher.

Other folks have been pointing out that if you use a Kindle, you’re out of luck as far as the eBookstore is concerned.  No .mobi, .prc, or .azw files up there…for obvious reasons.  I’ve seen some folks blaming Google for this, but since those are proprietary Amazon file types, and since you can’t read .epub files on the Kindle, that one seems to sit pretty squarely in Amazon’s lap.

Google is making an effort (at least a marketing effort) to include indie booksellers in its sales strategy, which is not only smart (long tail!) but seems less determinedly hostile to a rich bookselling ecosystem than the “kill them all” Amazon approach.  And Google is (for now) wisely staying out of the business of making a proprietary device or file format, instead making money off doing what it does best; mediating access to information, and skimming a little profit off every exchange.

If I had to lay money on where we’ll be in three years with purchasing e-books, I’d lay it on Google over Amazon.  I have a Kindle 2.  I’ve written here before about my reservations about its physical design and the business model on which it relies.  The way Google’s positioned, it seems to me that it’s not so much Google vs. Amazon, as it is Amazon vs. every other e-reader designer out there that wants to make money off Google’s huge reach.  Amazon’s going to have to do something pretty amazing to stay ahead of that.