Google launches UK eBooks store, Aus and Canada 'soon'

Google eBooks has launched its e-bookstore in the UK.

The store can be found at Google.co.uk/ebooks with frontlist titles including The Fear Index by Robert Harris priced at £9.06 and Kill Alex Cross by James Patterson priced at £8.06. Google has signed deals with the UK's biggest publishers, including Hachette, Penguin and Random House, and the store will feature on launch at the Gardner's Hive website and Blackwell's.

Google said it had hundreds of thousands of commercially available books to buy at launch, in addition to two million public-domain e-books. Google eBooks are stored in an online library and accessible across devices including laptops, netbooks, tablets, smartphones and e-readers.

The development comes almost a year after its US e-book store went live, with Google now promising launches in other English-language markets such as Australia and Canada to follow soon, with European expansion slated for next year. The move will significantly improve the giant search engine's ability to compete with the likes of Amazon and Apple in the burgeoning e-books market, though it has continued to lag behind competitors, including Barnes & Noble, in the US.

Jason Hanley, strategic partner development manager at Google, said: "We’ve been working with publishers for some time to build new online revenue sources for writers and  publishers, and this is the next step in that direction. With Google eBooks, readers can access their books across a variety of devices; publishers have an open platform for selling their works; and booksellers have an easy-to-implement way to sell digital books in addition to their existing offering.”

Hanley said the length of time between launches was about adapting to the local marketplaces, including making the stores accept local currencies and adopt to local tax rates. "It's not as straightforward as you'd think." He said the Australian and Canada stores would open "soon" with non-English markets to follow "not so soon", but with one possibly coming on stream before the end of 2011. He said pricing on non-agency e-books would be "competitive with the marketplace".

Evan Schnittman, managing director group sales and marketing, print and digital at Bloomsbury, welcomed the development but said he wanted to see Google add a device to its e-book offer. He told The Bookseller: "I am really excited to see this first step by Google in bringing e-books to the masses. However, I really look forward to the next stage - adding dedicated devices to the market. As real success in e-book selling comes when a system has all three components – huge collection of titles, fantastic cloud-based platform, devices that draw people into the service."

Hanley said he thought the 'device agnostic' approach was still appropriate with the e-book market developing quickly. He said: "Given the pace of change in this market, things will evolve, and as consumers get used to the cloud, we think they will appreciate not being tied to a particular device." He said there were no UK announcements as yet on the iriver Story HD device, which features an integrated Google eBooks store.

Google recently held a meeting to discuss Google E-Books with more than 100 independent booksellers at the Booksellers Association's Independent Booksellers Forum in Coventry. An indie can embed a Google E-Books store onto its website or become an affiliate and direct browsers to the Google E-Books store, in return for commission.