Google Plans to Sell eBooks By the End of 2009

As Amazon slowly inches toward sealing up the entire eBook industry, Google's getting antsy. Speaking at the BookExpo convention this weekend, a company rep stated Google's intentions to sell eBooks by the end of the year, adding ominously, "this time we mean it."

Thing is, the NYT report on the announcement is a bit cryptic. Let's see what we can glean:

Amazon offers Kindle editions of most new best sellers for $9.99, far less than the typical $26 at which publishers sell new hardcovers. In early discussions, Google has said it will allow publishers to set consumer prices.

Ok, so books could be a bit more expensive. Next.

Google plan[s] to sell readers online access to digital versions of various titles. When offline... readers would still be able to access their electronic books in cached versions on their browsers.

And the solution will be browser-based, enhanced by Google Gears. The browser eBook paradigm is an interesting one, but it seems obvious that they'll support actual eBook formats as well, and as they have in the past, right?

Google's program would allow consumers to read books on any device with Internet access, including mobile phones, rather than being limited to dedicated reading devices like the Amazon Kindle. "We don't believe that having a silo or a proprietary system is the way that e-books will go,"

Well, maybe not. Offering free downladable eBooks of public domain literature is one thing, but maybe the need for copy protection has forced Google's hand here.

Google moving into eBooks—or indeed, any industry—is a big deal, but the early indications here are strange. In releasing a browser-based solutions, Google would be sidestepping virtually the entire install base of current eBook readers, baking on people reading with existing connected hardware like their PCs or iPhones, or forthcoming, easier-on-the-eyes devices like those based on Pixel Qi's hybrid screens. Combined with a high likelihood of higher prices, the whole deal doesn't sound all that appealing, but it's all too new—and vague—to make any judgments yet [NYT]