Although the Sunday Times in the UK kicks it off with a provocative title ("Google plots e-books coup"), the article offers disappointingly more sizzle than steak.
There's a fair bit of discussion around the piece on Techmeme.
The whole piece seems to be based around this quote by a Google source:
"Jens Redmer, director of Google Book Search in Europe, said: “We are working on a platform that will let publishers give readers full access to a book online.”
The article is constructed with a series of teaser assertions like:
"GOOGLE and some of the world’s top publishers are working on plans that they hope could do for books what Apple’s iPod has done for music."
Reading that, one would expect a service that delivered via an elegant fusion of hardware and software. But here's the next sentence:
"The internet search giant is working on a system that would allow readers to download entire books to their computers in a format that they could read on screen or on mobile devices such as a Blackberry."
Oh, maybe they mean Google and some of the world's top publishers are working on plans that they hope could do for books what Apple's ITUNES has done for music".
The rest of the piece is a re-hash of some of the efforts to bring e-books to mainstream audiences in the past and present, with a laundry list of folks that have announced intentions to do in the present like Sony and Amazon, not to mention folks like Microsoft and the New York Times.
I would welcome a mainstream thrust by Google into the e-books area. Like so many book-loving geeks, it is a holy grail quest that I have been excited for so many years.
But a successful effort is going to involve not just a fusion of technology online and off, but a win-win combination of value for mainstream readers with a reasonable business model for publishers.
Efforts to date to bring books online on gadgets like Sony's recent Reader have been disappointing in both the selection and the pricing for the books, which tends to be the same as what the price for a physical book (here are some representative reviews on Sony's efforts last year from the David Pogue of the New York Times and PC Magazine, as well as this detailed one by Jake Richter last month).
Of course, e-books promise tons of convenience, but often at the cost of really expensive hardware, that have poor readability and battery life.
So what did I find the promising about the Sunday article?
Well, this statement by the Google spokesperson did strike me as a bit new:
"You may just want to rent a travel guide for the holiday..."
A rental model, driven either by a monthly subscription or an a la carte approach may be of interest. But this could easily become a mishmash of interminable price lists that a reader has to sort through just to get a listing of cool sights to check out on that next trip to Ulan Bator.
Don't get me wrong. I'll be among the first to line up for a cool e-book product and/or service. We've just all been disappointed too many times thus far though, for me to hold my breath each time I see an article like this.