Underwhelmed by Google's eBookstore
For the past 18 months or so, like many of you, I've been anxiously awaiting Google's ebookstore launch. Originally referred to as Google Editions, the service finally arrived this week with the name Google eBookstore. Now that I've had some time to tour the store and download some sample content, I have one question: Why did it take this long to launch a service that offers nothing new? Seriously, I was figuring there would be some groundbreaking functionality but this is basically the Kindle's bookstore with fewer bells and whistles.
Catalog pages are pretty much what you'd expect from Google: simple and clean. But is that always a good thing? Compare the Google and Amazon catalog pages for a book I plan to start reading soon, Unbroken, by Laura Hllenbrand. The Amazon page has all the elements we've come to know and love over the years including a lengthy product description as well as customer reviews in two formats: most recent and most helpful.
The Google page has a barren look. Drop that Google catalog page into Amazon's site and it would be considered either a dud or a mistake. Amazon takes great care in determining catalog page elements and I'm convinced more content helps convert browsers into paying customers. You'd think Google would realize that a sparsely populated catalog page probably isn't a good thing. Maybe they don't appreciate the fact that buying a book generally requires a lot more thought and consideration than clicking on a search results link.
Google is really playing up their multi-platform support. You can read your Google books on pretty much any tablet, smart phone or laptop. That's a clear advantage over Apple's iBookstore but it's something Amazon has offered for quite awhile now.
Google's iPad reader app is nothing spectacular. It offers the basic functionality but nothing revolutionary. It does, however, have one pretty significant shortcoming compared to Amazon's app: there's an annoying "Loading..." message that frequently appears on screen when turning pages. It reminds me of the page-turning delays I used to encounter on my first-gen Kindle. Thankfully, I never see delays like that in the Kindle iPad app. Google, you really need to fix this irritating feature.
I figured Google's service might give me a reason to ditch Amazon but I don't see a compelling reason to change. Am I missing something?
They haven't done so yet, but maybe Google will wow me later with reader app features I can't get anywhere else. Speaking of which, this Thursday, December 16th, I'll be presenting my "econtent wish list" in a free webcast. If you're interested in joining me for the 1-hour session be sure to sign up here.
Why shop at Google eBooks? A) Their eBooks are compatible with other e-Ink readers, such as Nook, Sony, Kobo, etc. Kindle eBooks are only compatible with Kindle e-readers. (Yes, you can read Kindle eBooks on other devices, but not e-Ink devices.) B) Google eBooks allows independent bookstores a way to compete in the digital realm, which is important to many readers who want to support their local stores instead of feed more money into Amazon etc.
Posted by: Andrewtshaffer | December 13, 2010 at 09:21 AM
Hi Andrew. I guess if I were using one of those dedicated e-readers you mention (e.g., Nook, Sony or Kobo), I might be more inclined to buy from Google. I opted out of eInk devices when I bought my iPad though and I can't imagine dealing with that constant "Loading..." message every few pages. It reminds me of the eInk display delay I used to get on my original Kindle.
I also figured Google would use this extra time to come up with some cool reader app features. They've got so much development talent in the organization and it was disappointing to see a reader app that isn't even as good as some of the existing ones.
Posted by: Joe Wikert | December 13, 2010 at 09:28 AM
I agree with your assessment. It made me yawn.
Posted by: MichaelHyatt | December 13, 2010 at 11:39 AM
This is a great post. I've been reading about the new Google launch and I haven't been able to find out what all the fuss is about. Basically there isn't anything new that would benefit me because I have a Kindle. Who cares that Amazon doesn't allow the books to be read on other devices... the best device made exclusively for ebooks is the Kindle anyway. Sounds like Google might offer something to people who have other devices, but what makes buying books from them better than shopping for ebooks on Barnes and Noble or Borders? They have some of the good info and content that Amazon offers on their site, and Google seems to be lacking that.
Just seems to me that if you were going to recreate the wheel, you'd make it extraordinary... not just ordinary.
Posted by: Ashley Musick | December 13, 2010 at 01:54 PM
I couldn't agree more. Nothing new or exciting here. I'll stick with Amazon and my Kindle.
Posted by: Karen | December 13, 2010 at 05:01 PM
There is something which is not said going on here. Kindle software is now available for the Ipad and my understanding is that more people use the Kindle App than the ibooks store to read on the Ipad at least anecdotally from what I hear.
Also, Ipads are starting to pick up apps for all the eink readers like the Bluefire App which allows Ipad to read Epub documents (free library books from Overdrive). You can add in other apps like the Kobo App, the Nook App, and the Ipad allows a variety of storefronts, not just Amazon. There is even a Google App.
Posted by: Book Calendar | December 13, 2010 at 05:19 PM
I agree with this post. I expected to be wowed, but I was let down.
And, fwiw, Google Books can be read in the Kindle's browser. Once you get to the book, it's pretty simple to read the book and doesn't look bad, either. That said, I'll stick with Kindle books for my ebook needs.
Posted by: NIcole | December 13, 2010 at 05:41 PM
I'm quite surprised that Google has come to the table with such a half-hearted effort. Not their usual model for launches.
Posted by: Ed Renehan | December 14, 2010 at 11:30 AM
I'm a former Google Print Partner and they re-activated the account. One thing that bothers me is that they make so much of the book available for free. Twenty percent. For non-fiction that's not very helpful since most researchers are looking for a gold nugget in a mass of dross. If they find it for free, why would they buy the entire book?
They want to put ads on the pages, which sounds great going in, but last time it was just pennies and not really worth the hassle. Currently I'm having to buy "covers' for Kindle publications and hire contractors to format them so they will display properly and those costs greatly raise the break-even point. My past experience does not make this a good or even realistic investment of time and money. Everyone is hoping for a breakthrough but do e-readers offer an equivilent reading experience to that of a well-designed print book? Ease of use is always an issue.
When we published "The Shenandoah Spy" we spent a lot of time making the pages attractive and easy to read. Two days just comparing typefaces by printing out two pages of text in final form. With a novel you want the "page-turner" effect and that doesn't happen if your page and type design induces eye fatigue. I had jury duty Tuesday and killed time by reading Carol Buchanan's second novel "Gold Under Ice". And I read it all, with pleasure. Great story, by the way, but the fact that it was a printed book helped. Black type on a reflective white page and not looking at lower resolution type on a screen. I doubt I could have done this will a reader or a laptop.
IMO e-books are still an early-adopter niche market. Does any one use a reader if they are not traveling? If you are at home and have a print book and a reader, which do you pick up first?
For publishers the formatting problems are a major problem. Amazon.com offers a service for this but takes no responsibility for the final result. Plays and poetry can't really be done. All the spacing goes away and the words all jam together. This is caused by hidden code which also inserts unintended artifacts into the text.
If we could just upload material and go, we would publish a lot more. We have hundreds of thousands of words of legacy material in the files, but little of it will sell well, Not much demand and what there is is not moved by price points. Sales on my new fiction in Kindle format is not any better than any of our other e-books.
It is just very hard to make a business case for taking the extraordinary pains in presentation that customers expect, but if you are not going to do that, then you might as well not do it all. At this point, Google Books is not an attractive channel.
Posted by: Francis Hamit | December 16, 2010 at 04:22 PM