And you thought 2010 was done with shaking up the publishing industry. Our late entry for the year's game changer arrived overnight with the launch - finally - of the Google eBookstore. So far it's available only in the US. Everyone outside gets - you'll never guess - public domain titles. Honestly, I might have been tempted to read that Jane Austen novel until it got rammed down my throat by every ereader application in existence.
Actually, no, not really. I was never going to read it. But it's still annoying. International access is expected in early 2011.
Google being Google, has created a slick little video explaining the process. in short, the books will be available to multiple devices and bookmarked (and mostly stored) in the cloud.
This is great news for anyone who doesn't want to be tied to a single device and solves a few problems around what happens when you inevitably want to upgrade your ereader. Of course it's no help for Kindle readers. And the ebook ecosystem goes further down the path of Amazon-versus-everybody-else.
Though you can purchase directly from their own site, Google's plan is not to become a bookseller as such. Instead, they provide a platform for existing booksellers to host and and sell ebooks. To this end, Google is working with the American Booksellers Association. They have already partnered with Powell's, a major independent bookseller with an established online presence. Expect more to follow.
In the meantime, here's some reaction from important people.
Hannah Johnson over at Publishing Perspectives wonders if Google will be the saviour of independents. Keep in mind, independents account for less than 13% of sales in the US.
Andrew Albanese's piece in Publisher's Weekly includes an interesting quote from Michael Tucker, a San Francisco independent bookseller:
We're not going to make a living from e-books...but at least we can offer e-books to customers who want them, rather than having them go somewhere else.
That doesn't sound like the most positive of starting positions, but he seems otherwise upbeat about the prospect.
Oh, and you've got to love Google's Whale Fail page.