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Google Makes A Play For A Piece Of The E-Books Market

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Google Makes A Play For A Piece Of The E-Books Market

Google Makes A Play For A Piece Of The E-Books Market

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GUY RAZ, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

I'm Melissa Block.

And it's time now for All Tech Considered. First up, the latest volley in the e-book revolution. Google launched an e-book store today, their entry into the iPad, Kindle-type market, and it includes titles from all of the major publishing houses.

Here's NPR's Laura Sydell.

LAURA SYDELL: On the surface, Google's e-books don't look much different from Amazon's or Apple's.

Mr. SCOTT DOUGALL: (E-Book Developer, Google): Today, we're really sticking with the classic reading platform.

SYDELL: Scott Dougall is part of the team that developed Google e-books. The company's offerings are nothing fancy - no bells and whistles. It doesn't add links, 3-D pictures or social networking.

Mr. DOUGALL: We don't want to mess with the reading experience, and so we want to be very careful about doing things like that because ultimately, the book and the story are what is the most valuable property.

SYDELL: What does make Google e-books different from the other major e-book retailers - Amazon, Apple, and Barnes and Noble - is that you can read books on almost any Internet-connected device: a desktop, a laptop, a smart phone. Google e-books are stored online. So once you buy a book, you just sign into your account, and read from any location.

Mike Shatzkin, a book industry consultant, believes that will open up e-books to a lot more people.

Mr. MIKE SHATZKIN (Book Industry Consultant): What Google is doing is enabling anybody with a Web browser to have an e-book experience. That means, probably, that we're going to see far more titles than made sense in the previous e-book world.

SYDELL: It's also possible to read Google e-books on an iPad, a Barnes and Noble nook, and a Sony e-reader. And a book can be downloaded if you're about to step on a plane or be out of Internet range. The only device that can't read Google's e-books is Amazon's Kindle, which is designed to read only books sold by Amazon, currently the leader in the e-book market.

Google is clearly entering that market as a competitor to Amazon. Shatzkin says publishers are happy to see the competition.

Mr. SHATZKIN: If authors can reach 80 percent of the market with one distributor, there's not much of a role for publishers.

SYDELL: Publishers aren't the only ones that are happy to see Google enter the market. For the first time, independent booksellers will have easy access to the technology for e-books. When you visit the site of your local bookstore, you can purchase an e-book enabled by Google's technology.

Michael Tucker is president of the American Booksellers Association. Until now, he says, independent bookstores were locked out of the e-book market.

Mr. MICHAEL TUCKER (President, American Booksellers Association): We always get sort of portrayed as being these Luddites because we didn't have the money to throw at the technology to do this. The nice thing now - and a little bit of what's happening at Google - is there's a certain democratization of the technology.

Tucker says that independent booksellers will be able to get a cut of the revenue of an e-book when people make the purchase on their site. He says prices should range from between 9.99 and 12.99. Tucker says the big publishers are willing to split revenue with the local stores because they don't want the independent booksellers to go out of business.

Mr. TUCKER: If you don't have stores, they don't have thousands of people who are dedicated to selling their own books, or to selling books in general. And where would you have author signings? Where do you have book clubs? Those don't exist online.

SYDELL: And independent booksellers are going to have to enter the online world if they want to survive. This year, close to a billion dollars in e-books will be sold. The research firm Forrester is predicting that by 2015, that number will triple.

Publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin thinks Google is hitting the market at just the right time to be a competitive player.

Mr. SHATZKIN: I don't know if it's going to be 100 percent in my lifetime, but it's going to be - in the next 10 years, 80 percent - or 85 or 90 percent of consumption is going to be e-books.

SYDELL: Though e-books are here to stay, Google's success in the market isn't certain. Its last foray into the retail business was the Nexus One phone, which it sold over the Internet to consumers. There were a lot of complaints about customer service. And if the search giant wants to be a big player in the book retail market, it will have to get it right this time.

Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.

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