The publishing industry has been backed into a corner as of late, as the digital age hasn’t played too nicely with old fashioned paper and ink. Companies that rely on the sale of books and printed media have turned to producing their own e-readers in an attempt to capitalize on digitized publications (see Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook), but stand-alone devices for reading e-publications have proven hard to justify for consumer’s who already own any combination of MP3 player, mobile phone, laptop, and now tablet.
The distribution end of this growing problem for the publishing industry is starting to become less of an issue, however; on top of various eBook devices, the iPad, smartphones, and upcoming tablets are all available as easily accessible channels for delivering content. The problem now becomes an issue of the content itself, a snag Google is hoping to eliminate with the launch of Google Editions. According to Japan Today, as of the beginning of this week Google has reached agreements with over 25,000 publishers and authors. This equates to around 2 million books available at launch. Compare these numbers to 60,000 from iBooks, 500,000 from Amazon, and around 1 million from Barnes and Noble currently available.
If Google is able to include the over 2 million public domain titles it already plays host to on its Google Books service (just a small slice of the 10 million books Google already claims to have digitized in its Books database), the number of titles available grows to over 4 million. An effort to have Editions play nicely with all major devices and e-readers means a truly monumental amount of texts available readily for anyone with a device capable of reading them.
So while the eBook revolution has begun to pick up speed thanks to the run away success of the iPad, the content delivery aspect is nothing new. Yes, the iPad has done great things for reinforcing the viability of e-publications, but it will take a great library of titles for the demand for digitized content to grow. The beauty of Google Editions is that users will not be limited in their device selection in order to tap into the huge library available.
Sure, Editions will be pushed on Android phones and tablets, but you won’t have to own one. Having worked for an academic publisher (perhaps the sector of the industry most affected by the shift towards digital media), I can say that one of the biggest things hindering eBooks is the sheer number of formats and services a book must be prepped for in order to reach a mass market.
No digital book store has quite done for the printed word what iTunes accomplished for music distribution. Could Google Editions be the catalyst for a move towards digital texts as the standard? I think you’d have a hard time arguing against the sheer volume of titles that will be available, which looks to be well more than what could be read in a lifetime.