Feeling Googley

by Adam on February 17, 2010

I had the distinct pleasure of visiting the Google Campus in Mountain View, CA last week (the Googleplex, as it’s fondly called) on a social call with a good friend who works for the company. The meeting started purely as a chance to sample all the delicious food that those lucky brainiacs get to enjoy on a daily basis. There’s a ton of it, just an incredible amount of [free] [delicious] food that Google offers to employees, friends of employees, pets of employees (seriously), and just about anyone else who is lucky enough to find their way to this foodie heaven.

It turned out that an actual publishing meeting emerged from the haze of culinary cloudiness that gripped me earlier in the day. Serendipitously, our contact at Google Books found out I was going to be on-campus (very much in the spirit of Google…) and wanted to meet to present their new ebook offering, Google Editions. Anyone who is currently part of Google Book Search can extend the functionality to include sales of complete ebooks with a few clicks. The simplicity of it is mind-blowing AND since Google already has the books as part of Google Book Search, there’s no need to send them PDFs of anything.

[Side-note for those of you who have not seen the Google Editions presentation yet]: Google is offering a similar experience to that of Google Book Search (although I’m assured that the quality will be better given that people are paying for these editions), so if you search for a title that’s offered under the Google Editions program, Google will serve up a link where you can preview and buy the ebook. That ebook is then stored in your Google account (aha! The plot thickens…lots of signups coming Google’s way, I’m sure) and can be accessed from any device that has an internet connection (it’ll be “in the cloud” as they say…nothing like my aloof grandmother who often finds herself “in the clouds” as well…).

There’s also the opportunity to cache the books you bought, so that even without an internet connection, you can access them (although there’s no file downloaded to your computer, so from a DRM perspective, it’s pretty nifty). Google can sell the ebooks directly, a publisher can opt to have them sold off their site, or it can be fed out into the network of retailers that Google is courting to be sold on a multitude of online properties (the revenue splits here differ depending on where it’s sold: Google direct is 63/37 split in the publisher’s favor, direct through the publisher is likely better, although I couldn’t get exact figures, and the split through an online retailer is 45/55 with a big ZING for the publisher (what are we, Amazon over here?).

[end side note]

Well I’m a bit on the fence. I came away from the meeting thinking that their “all-in-one” solution might mitigate the need for laborious conversions and iterations on other devices, but part of me feels it’s too good to be true. I do think the huge benefit of going direct with Google is that publishers only deal with one stream of data, both from an accounting and a QA standpoint (and it eliminates the need for thousands of unique ISBNs as well, which is a huge sigh of relief on my part). And the fact that there’s no need to send files to a number of different vendors…when doing revisions, this could be a huge savings in terms of time and possibility for error.

But I have a hold-up about this idea of books in the cloud – I’ve been a big proponent of it myself, cuts through the crap of proprietary formats and devices. But there’s a small piece of me that didn’t expect it to happen so quickly (of course Google got there) and now that it’s here, I’m being a bit more conservative and wondering if there isn’t a better chance for success, at least in the short-term, with multiple revenue streams from proprietary formats (yes, before jumping on the greedy publisher bandwagon, I did sell my soul to the devil…) All joking aside though, it’s something that requires serious consideration – while one book on all devices makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, once we go there we aren’t going back (although I suppose Google already went there, so it’s just a matter of who goes along with it and who doesn’t).

My biggest question is if we shouldn’t get to right on ebooks in terms of look and design before standing behind a single product for all of our consumers, one that may or may not represent us the way we want it to.

[One of the things I’ve not introduced here, but that will likely also happen, is that Google becomes just another piece to the digital puzzle…while I suspect that will be the case short-term, I see a future of convergence and one can never say at what pace that will happen. Also, for the record, it seems very likely Harvard Common Press will end up walking the Google Editions path as part of an overall digital strategy].

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