Someday soon—later this summer perhaps—there will be a major new development in the evolution of e-books: the launch of Google Editions. The initial success of Amazon's Kindle, Apple's iPad, and the e-book runners-up like Barnes & Noble's Nook and the Sony Reader has established that consumers are reading books on screens in ever-greater numbers and with considerable satisfaction. While the revenues are still a relatively small part of the overall book market—somewhat less than 10 percent—the figure is growing very fast. The prediction that e-books will be 20 to 25 percent of the total in the next ten years now seems reasonable.
So what does Google Editions add to the mix? The answer, based on conversations with Google representatives and bookseller—particularly among the independent stores—is that Google will be adding millions of digital titles for sale on any device with Internet access: smart phones, tablets, netbooks, desktops, and every digital reading device except Kindle, which for now at least continues to operate on a closed proprietary system. But Google and Amazon are continuing discussions, so that may yet change.
In preparation for its rollout, Google says that through its "Partnership Program" it has made deals with 35,000 publishers and scanned millions of titles. For now, if you go to Google Books, you can preview up to 20 percent of the title you select (go ahead and try it with a best-seller like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and then choose from available options for purchase of the printed book. Assuming the program works as planned, Google Editions will put up for sale a vast universe of trade e-books, plus technical and professional titles and out of copyright works (which will be free) for use when, where and how the consumer chooses. The consumer will put the books they buy on Google's cloud (which means its enormous servers) and can access their personal library at will. Suppose you start reading on your iPhone and switch to your tablet or desktop—the book will pick up where you left off.