December 01, 2010, 4:11 PM —
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google may be almost ready to the wraps of its online bookstore known as Google Editions. This could have a massive effect on the existing electronic bookstore market space and on the current big three e-reading powerhouses: Amazon, Apple, and Barnes and Noble.
To me, what's most fascinating about Google's approach (and something that is touched on but not really explored in a lot of the commentary pieces I've seen) is that Google is eschewing the idea of a dedicated device (and possibly even a dedicated app). Google Editions purchases will be tied to a user's Google account and book would be accessible from any device with a web browser.
This approach doesn't immediately conjure up direct comparisons to the Kindle, iBooks, or Nook experiences (be it on a dedicated device or through an app as Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer). Instead it reminds me more of Safari Books Online, a joint venture of several technology publishers to make tech books ranging from introductory to advanced material available via the web using a subscription model.
Although I like the breadth of content and the subscription model of Safari (after all, you mostly read technology books to learn something specific or use them as a reference as needed), the interface has always seemed clunky (particularly the search function, though I'm sure Google will more than succeed when it comes to catalog and in in-book searches). It's pretty clear reading a book using Safari that you're looking at content that wasn't designed for the web and that has been pushed or stretched to fit in a web-based format. That said, for an extra fee, Safari does offer the ability to download and print chapters or even whole books for offline reading which mitigates its design limitations.
Although this sounds pretty critical of Safari, it isn't a big problem when you're using the service as a reference source. The subscription nature that gives you access to all these books at a flat fee as well as the different style of reading more than makes up for the limitations and it is a service that I recommend to IT departments and professionals.