Google set to turn Web browsers into e-book readers

Up until now, e-books and e-reader devices have mostly gone hand-in-hand: For example, you’ve got Amazon and the Kindle, Apple’s iBooks and the iPad, Barnes & Noble and the Nook. Google, on the other hand, is taking a characteristic, in-the-cloud approach with Google Editions, promising to deliver your e-books to any device — ranging from a desktop PC to a smartphone — with a Web browser.
After months of delays, Google Editions is finally slated to go live before the year is out, [according to the Wall Street Journal](*, and we’re not just talking a single Google Editions e-book store. Instead, expect hundreds, with independent booksellers to get the chance to sell Google e-books on their own websites and share a slice of the revenue.
Prices for e-books sold via Google Editions should be about the same as they are on Amazon’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBooks app, and through Barnes & Noble’s digital bookstore, with “many” of the biggest book publishers expected to participate, the Journal reports, along with “millions” of free virtual volumes slated to go live.
And just as you’ll be able to buy Google Edition e-books from a variety of Web-based sources, so will readers be able to browse their purchased e-books just about anywhere, on anything with a Web browser. (Well, not all browsers, probably; we’re still waiting for details on which browser technologies will be required for loading up a Google e-book.)
It’s a clever approach — although, if you ask me, one with plenty of minuses as well as pluses.
On the plus side: no need to worry about whether there’s, say, a version of the Kindle app for your particular smartphone, or even feature phone. All you’d have to do is fire up your phone’s browser, surf over to Google, sign in, and start flipping pages.
I also like the idea of being able to read your Google Editions books from just about any hand-held, tablet, desktop, or laptop — even one that isn’t yours.
Sure, you can already read Kindle books on a desktop, but you’ll need to have the Kindle desktop software installed before you start reading. With Google Editions, you could conceivably pick up a book from where you left off at, say, a public Internet cafe in some far-flung corner of the world. (Just don’t forget to log out completely once you’re done with your Google book.)
And don’t be surprised if you start seeing Google Editions volumes for sale on your favorite sites. Movie lovers browsing, for example (well, maybe not IMDB in particular, since it’s owned by Amazon), may no longer have to go far to buy an e-book on the history of film — instead, you’d be able to browse Google’s aisles directly on a participating site.
Needless to say, there are plenty of downsides to Google’s e-book strategy — well, from the perspective of a reader, at least.
Sure, being able to browse your Google e-books from any Web browser is great, but what if you don’t have an Internet connection? That’s the beauty of having an e-book saved on your Kindle, iPad, or Nook — you can read on a Wi-Fi-free beach in Bali, deep underground on a subway, or anyplace else where wireless isn’t an option.
Also: What if the Google Editions servers go down? Hey, it happens — and when it does, no more reading for you.
Finally, there’s plenty to be said for dedicated e-reader hardware like the Kindle and the (first) Nook, which boast e-paper displays that are easy to read in direct sunlight. I’ve tried reading e-books on my iPhone’s LCD display at the beach, and believe me, it’s no fun.
But what do you think: Would you prefer to buy an e-book that you could read from any Web browser, or would you rather shop at an e-book store that lets you download and store your digital volumes on a dedicated e-reader, or a device like the iPad?