Saturday, December 11, 2010

The New Elephant: Google eBooks

This week's big news (aside from the new auction records set at Sotheby's) was the unveiling on Monday of Google eBooks (formerly to be known as Google Editions), with some 3 million titles now available. Coverage of the launch has been fairly steady all week long, and has included some really fascinating perspectives. For some good general summaries, see Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle, the Washington Post, Jeffrey Trachtenberg and Amir Efrati in the WSJ, and Julie Bosman in the NYTimes (the latter two being the most comprehensive of the major stories). For Google's own overview (with videos), go here.

Linda Holmes takes the eBookstore for a test drive at the NPR blog monkey see, discovering some tricky things involved with getting Google eBooks to play easily with certain devices. At the New Yorker's book blog, Mary Halford is amused by the slightly cloying into video and notes that the often-deficient metadata in Google Books is "exacerbated" in the new eBookstore, adding that "all this really shows is how desperately online book catalogs need professional librarians and archivists to organize the millions upon millions of titles making their way into cyberspace."

In Slate, Farhad Manjoo warned users not to be taken in by Google's rhetoric of an "open" e-bookstore (for a variety of reasons). On the PWxyz blog, Craig Morgan Teicher noted "three cool things" about the new store. Writing at Wynden de Worde, Sarah Werner surveyed prices of Google eBooks in their own bookstore, at Amazon and through their independent bookstore affiliates (make sure to read the updates and comments too). At CSM, Husna Haq asks whether cooperating with Google offers independent bookstores a "fighting chance" (by allowing them a seat at the e-book table). And yesterday's #followreader discussion on Twitter focused on the effects of this on indie shops, so if you have time, do read through that as well.

Matthew Singleton at The Bookshop Blog brings up the question of how Google eBooks will interact with libraries. The Open Content Alliance suggests that Google ought to move the eBookstore from the "Books" tab to the "Shopping" tab.

One of the most useful pieces I read this week was Brian Croxall's ProfHacker piece, which examines "the new, the good, and the ugly" of Google's new outfit. Another must-read is Laura Miller's Salon piece on the rollout, which points out one of the things that struck me immediately about it (in a bad way): no advanced search option and a very strange quasi-integration with Google Books proper (I've been playing around with both this morning, and agree that the coordination between the two definitely needs some work, as does the search function in the eBookstore).

In the meantime, Amazon also announced that a web-based Kindle app is in the works, and will be released within several months (this was widely seen as a catchup move to Google's web-based storage/accessibility feature).

Many of the pieces mention the very useful summary of Google eBooks on the site of one of their indie affiliaties, Tattered Cover Book Store (Denver, CO). And I think the most positive comments I saw on Twitter and the blogs this week about Google eBooks concerned the site's error page.

Time will tell, of course, and I'm sure there are lots of new features/debates/discussions still on the horizon (for example, the still-awaited decision on the proposed Google Books Settlement will have a major impact on the eBookstore). Stay tuned!