During an onstage interview with Chris Anderson at this year’s BEA, Jeff Bezos described his vision of a world where any book ever published would be available anywhere, at any time. At the time it seemed like one of those distant fantasies that might be decades away. Bezos acknowledged that there was a lot of work to be done before that vision would ever become a reality. Little did he know at the time…
With the Google Book Search agreement Bezos’ vision has come much closer to being a reality. The problem for Bezos is that he was hoping that vision would be realized through the Kindle. While the Kindle promises to put a whole bookstore in the palm of your hand, a Google powered reader could put the Library of Congress in the palm of your hand.
Kindle’s 190,000 available titles pale in comparison to the millions of titles Google has just been granted access to. But Amazon still holds a couple of obvious advantages over Google:
- Amazon has been working directly with publishers to make many new releases available for the Kindle. These are the books that consumers buying a $300 reading device want to read.
- The Kindle is available today (and at a discount, no less, if you act now before your Oprah coupon expires).
These might seem like substantial barriers to competition, but there’s nothing here Google can’t easily overcome.
By negotiate a blanket settlement for books that are out-of-print Google has managed to gain access to an enormous number of titles. More importantly, with the Book Rights Registry they’ve created a framework that paves the way for front list books to be added to the Google system any time publishers are ready.
If Google succeeds in obtaining court approval and successfully rolls out the promised institutional subscriptions services and consumer products, it’s easy to see how publishers might eventually trust Google with their front list titles as well. A move that could be accelerated as Kindle continues to gain market share.
As for the Google powered reader, there are any number of ways the company might achieve that goal. In fact, Google may have more opportunity in this area than Amazon does.
Consider these possibilities:
- G1: Google could build access right into the new Google phone. There’s already at least one ebook reader application for the phone. How difficult would it be for Google to build a Book Search interface right into the phone?
- An Android Powered Reader: Android is Google’s open-source platform for developing mobile devices. While the system is currently being used to build phones, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be used to build an eReader. And because the operating system is open-source, an Android eReader might come from any number of hardware manufacturers.
While Amazon maintains total control over the Kindle platform, Google may succeed by opening access to its platform. From Google’s perspective it doesn’t matter who builds the devices, as long as they connect to Google Book Search and allow consumers to access and buy digital content.
- An iPhone Application: Even without Android or the gPhone, Google could easily develop an iPhone application to access the Book Search system. Google has already created stand alone applications for the iPhone, including the recently released Google Earth. An iPhone Book Search application with built in ereader makes perfect sense.
So which will it be? Very likely all three, and a few more that I haven’t yet considered. As I said, Google has a lot of flexibility here.
Granted, right now this is all just speculation. The ink hasn’t yet dried on the Book Search agreement, and the parties are still awaiting court approval.
The takeaway here is that Kindle may have way more competition than any of us expected.