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Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) has a long history of being a thorn in the side of the publishing industry -- and also a partner. According to The Wall Street Journal, Big G is about to kick up both of those aspects of its publishing relationship another notch.
In the Google Books search service, you can find information on most any book you'd care to mention. There are user reviews, keyword lists, and often a few pages of preview materials. But downloading the whole thing is typically limited to public domain works -- if you want to buy the darn thing, Google is happy to link you to Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) , Books-A-Million (Nasdaq: BAMM ) , or Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) but doesn't offer a way to make the purchase from Google itself.
The WSJ says that this lost monetization opportunity is about to get captured. The upcoming Google Editions service will still include links to rival booksellers, but also lets you buy a digital copy right from Google, in an unencumbered format that should be compatible with nearly any e-reader on the market. Your Editions-backed books will be available in an online library connected to your Google login account, which makes a cloud service out of the whole thing.
If you can buy one book from Amazon, another from Barnes & Noble, and yet another directly from Google and then make them all available in a single, centralized location with minimal technical tinkering, the convenience should translate into a powerful market position for Google almost instantly. The service is expected to launch by the end of the year, stocked with "hundreds of thousands of titles for purchase, and millions more for free" right at launch. That's a delay from the originally planned launch in the summer of 2010, but getting the service out the door before the holidays would still give Google a chance to prove its mettle right away.
Given the retail successes of Amazon's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPad, the time seems absolutely ripe for a new way of enjoying books in a convenient, digital format. Then again, things didn't exactly work out as planned when Google tried to revolutionize the smartphone industry a year ago. The difference is, Google has a lot of industry partners this time that don't seem to mind playing in a new kind of sandbox.
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