STEVE INSKEEP, host:
The book, as we know it, is changing. Electronic books may not be the whole future of publishing, but they'll certainly be a big part of it. And the current giant in digital book selling is Amazon. Its digital book reader is called the Kindle. Now Google has told publishers that it has its own e-book plan which could be ready by the end of the year.
NPR's Lynn Neary reports.
LYNN NEARY: Bookstore owners have been trying to figure out how to get a slice of the e-book pie. The Kindle makes it incredibly easy for consumers to buy a book in seconds - anywhere, anytime - from the Kindle bookstore. And that, says Michael Powell of Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon, is frustrating for traditional booksellers.
Mr. MICHAEL POWELL (Owner, Powell's Books): We're totally out in the cold. We can sit and press our nose against the window, but we cannot play a role in that. We can admire, regret but we can't play.
NEARY: Bookstore owners, says Powell, are not Luddites. Powell's has a sophisticated Web site, and Powell knows that e-books will play an increasingly important role in the future. He wants to be able to take advantage of the technology.
Mr. POWELL: We need to be able to have access to books electronically. We need to be able to reach our customers with those services. Our customers need to know that they're getting a full spectrum of possibilities when they go to the Powell's Web site at powells.com.
NEARY: What Google is proposing, says Powell, might just give bookstores what they need because Google is developing a different kind of e-book experience. You don't download a book and store it on a device like the Kindle. The books are stored on the Web and you buy access to them. You don't need to buy an expensive device to read the book. As long as you're connected to the Internet, you could conceivably access the book from your local bookstore's Web site, maybe even right from the publisher.
Gabriel Stricker, the director of book search communications at Google, calls it a digital-book ecosystem.
Mr. GABRIEL STRICKER (Director, Book Search Communications, Google): A digital-book ecosystem is basically an online space where you have the ability to have your books be discovered and make money off of them.
NEARY: Stricker emphasizes that this idea is still in development. But eventually, he says, Google's e-book service should be what he calls device agnostic.
Mr. STRICKER: We want to be able to have folks search for books anywhere, and not just when they happen to be at a computer. That could be when they're on a PC, or a Smart Phone, or a Netbook or a dedicated reading device.
NEARY: Publishers are likely to welcome this device agnostic concept because they have been concerned that with the Kindle, Amazon could control not just the e-book market but the price of e-books. And Google has the size, money and technical know-how to compete with Amazon.
Mr. MIKE SHATZKIN (President & CEO, The Idea Logical Company): The difference is that you're not possessing a file, you're seeing a file.
NEARY: Mike Shatzkin, president and CEO of The Idea Logical Company, is a consultant to publishers. He says Google may also solve a problem for publishers that has haunted both the recording and film industries.
Mr. SHATZKIN: What Google accomplishes here is that they totally sidestep the piracy and digital rights management issue. Because there is no possession of the file, therefore there is no way for you to give the file to anyone else. And they just don't have to worry about that anymore.
NEARY: The question is, are avid readers who are just starting to accept the idea of electronic reading devices ready for an even more intangible notion of the book? Google is betting, they are.
Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.