Google Editions is said to be cloud-based and hardware agnostic. Great so far. After all, I often worried about being locked into Amazon's Kindle platform each time I bought another $9.99 book for it. To Amazon's credit though, they're heading away from their original locked-in hardware model where you had to own a Kindle to enjoy a Kindle ebook. Most of the books I read on my iPad now are from the Kindle store, so kudos to Amazon.
The NY Times article linked to above talks about how Google could change the game by cozying up to the independent booksellers. Interesting idea. I've always thought the independents should have banded together years ago to create an uber virtual bookstore chain, both online and as brick-and-mortars. Think of it as a federation of indies. Networked together they'd stand a much better chance of competing with Amazon, B&N and Borders, for example.
Here's one way this could work: You search for a print book on an indie's website. They don't have it but the indie two down street does. In this new federation of independents, Google ties everything together on the back end as it helps them refine their sites and search results to show that book is available down the street at indie #2. Indie #1 gets a finders fee on the resulting transaction. Again, everything is handled with a state-of-the-art Google back-end system.
Extend that same thinking to a combined online presence, all backed by Google to do things like provide the best local information (depending on the customer's IP address or what's being searched for). In other words, take what's always made the indie stores so attractive (extensive local knowledge and specialization) and bring it online, not individually as they are today, but as one super-sized independent. Think of it as all these stores banding together with Google to create a large Amazon-like presence but with an indie personality, one that changes on the fly from one region to another based on where you are and what you're looking for. That sounds like a compelling model to me.
So what does the ebook retailing landscape look like for the next couple of years? First of all, the Kindle will continue to take on more meaning as a bookstore rather than a hardware device. In fact, as I predicted last November, I believe Amazon will completely abandon the Kindle hardware space by late 2012. The only adjustment I'd like to make to that prediction is that the iPad (and the upcoming flood of Android-based tablets) will cause it to happen even sooner.
Next, Google will probably cozy up with indies but Amazon's Kindle apps will help it expand onto all platforms. Google, however, will be more aggressive on the advertising front and (finally!) give book publishers the option of selling different versions of their products (regular-priced ones without ads and lower-priced ones with ads, for example). For all you anti-book ad people, please remember that there will still be versions without ads; nobody will force you to buy books with ads! For cheapskates like me who have no problem with ads everywhere else, we'll save a few bucks along the way.