January 13, 2011, 12:15 PM —
Google eBooks was the first truly platform agnostic ebook option to hit the market. Google has played up the fact that you can read ebooks purchased from its store anywhere, with or without dedicated apps. The initial launch specifically focused on a web-based approach absent from competitors like Amazon's Kindle, Barnes and Noble's Nook, and Apple's iBookstore (the most limited of the bunch with it's store and titles available only on iOS devices).
It looks like Google may have plans beyond simply making ebooks available through a browser (or a dedicated mobile device app), however. The company has acquired eBook Technologies, a company that is, not surprisingly dedicated to the ebook and e-reader space. Though the eBooks Technologies website now contains nothing more than an announcement of the deal, a cached version is still available (thanks to Google – talk about irony).
It seems that the company was developing a complete ebook and e-reader platform. Its product page lists both e-reader device technology as well as an associated online store with content management features. The platform also included ebook publishing tools.
What all this means is unclear (and terms of the deal aren't available). Since there is an e-reader app for Google eBooks available for Android users, I'm doubting that the company is planning its own e-reader device. That would run counter to its stated plans for its ebook venture and to its general trend of developing a platform that manufacturers can use (Android, Google TV, Chrome OS).
My guess would be that Google is interested in the eBook Technologies publishing tools. One challenge for small/niche publishers as well as authors interested in self-publishing is a method for packaging their content and getting it into the marketplace. There are tools available for this (and EPUB export is becoming more common in personal word processing and page layout applications). But EPUB is only part of the issue. There's also the legwork of getting an ISBN number and associated processes along with getting the finished product into an online store and promoting it.
If Google can provide easy (and most likely web/cloud-based) solutions for all steps in the process, perhaps even making them standard in Google Docs, it could create a great solution for individuals, small businesses, schools, and smaller publishers. Perhaps more importantly, achieving such a solution that is tied into Google eBooks exclusively would allow Google to dramatically build its ebook catalog. In fact, it could create the ebook version of YouTube. That might not rival other ebook vendors for sales of best sellers, but it could deliver a lot of niche markets, which could add up quickly. It could also make Google eBooks a destination of choice for many people.
What's your take? Is Google out for something beyond just ebook publishing tools and, if so, what? Share your thoughts in the comments.