Android Market Now Sells Ebooks. So What?

Google are now selling ebooks through the Android Market. Check it out via this link. (If it goes to the Market homepage, then ebooks aren’t available in your country yet.)

On paper, this is not a big deal; Google have been selling ebooks through the Google eBookstore for months, and a free Android app to let you read them has been on the Market for just as long. But let’s look at the bigger picture…

  • Amazon started as an online book store, and widened its range to include MP3s, movies, and (most recently) Android apps.
  • iTunes started as an online MP3 store, and widened its range to include movies and iOS apps. More recently, Apple released its iBooks store, and its Mac App Store.
  • Google itself has several stores; apart from Android Market and Google eBookstore, there’s the Chrome Web Store.

In each case, we can see that the companies are recognising the importance of the distribution platform. The store, and the user experience, is as important as the products themselves. Yes, it was possible to buy Mac software before the Mac App Store was launched. That’s not the point of launching such a store.

Putting the ebooks directly on the Android Market, rather than requiring readers to purchase them through a separate app or website, makes it much easier for Android users to buy their books through Google. After all, they already buy apps through the Market; that’s a process they’re comfortable with. Why bother using a different store for something else they’re going to use on their tablet or phone?

All About Choice?

Take a look at this video introducing Google’s ebook service:

What Google describes here is nothing that Amazon weren’t already doing with the Kindle. Buy an ebook through Amazon, and you can read it on your computer, your iPhone, your iPad, your Android phone or tablet, or your dedicated Kindle ebook reader. Just as with Google’s service, your current page will be synced between devices. Just as with Google’s service, your books will be stored online so that they can be downloaded again later.

To quote the video,

Today there are all kinds of ebook standards, each with their own dedicated e-reader and their specific place to buy ebooks. And all lacking one thing: choice. The idea behind Google ebooks is to truly set your reading free from all these limitations […] you get to shop for all your favorite books wherever you want and read them wherever you go […] That’s all your books in one place.

And yet, on the Google eBooks website, they say:

Currently, Google eBooks are not compatible with Amazon Kindle devices, though we are open to supporting them in the future.

This is actually a two-way limitation; ebooks bought through Google’s store can’t be read on Amazon devices, and ebooks bought through Amazon can’t be read with Google’s app.

What Does It Mean?

I interpret this as another sign that Google are getting serious about selling products, rather than just providing services. We’ve already seen evidence that Google is planning a music store.

The real question is whether they’ll be any good at it. Apple’s iAds doesn’t exactly stack up against Google’s years of experience in web advertising. Can Google beat Apple and Amazon in their fields of expertise?