Will Google change the game?

Will Google change the game?

'Game changing' is the phrase bandied about by publishers about the iPad, but the long trailed news that Google will start selling e-books sometime this summer may be far more significant (incidentally, The Bookseller's Catherine Neilan covered this story in October, the rest of the media seems to have just cottoned on).

The crucial element of Google Editions is that it will be browser, and not device based. For me, this is precisely what digital books need to truly push it into the mainstream: DRM-free, device agnostic interoperability. This is particularly crucial in a world where devices are used and discarded at an increasingly rapid rate. The first Sony Reader was launched in the UK in 2008 and it already has the feel of something that belongs in the antiquities section of the British Museum. An early adopter who hops from Sony Reader to Kindle to iPad, could conceivably build up three digital libraries that remain locked on the devices.

Of course, the devil is in the detail. Google Edition's pricing structure is still up in the air, and to make this a viable consumer product Google will have to develop a way for people read offline. And if the Jarndyce v Jarndyce-esque Google Settlement finally goes through, Google will be able to sell orphan works through Google Editions.  

Publishers who support DRM do so not to frustrate customers (although I think it eventually does), but feel it is the best way to protect content. Google, admittedly, is not the cuddliest company to do business with, but if you are dealing with Apple and Amazon, you are already swimming with sharks who may look at you as partners one moment, chum the next. You might as well work to get e-books into the most people's hands, and damn the DRM.