Google has launched a new online bookstore called Google eBooks, along with a series of applications allowing you to read digital books on Android, the iPhone, iPod touch or iPad, or any computer with a web browser. Books from Google eBooks will also be available for download as ePUB files with Adobe DRM, which means you can read them on the Barnes & Noble NOOK, Sony Reader series, and a number of other devices.
Google has been working in the digital book space fro the last few years, scanning a huge selection of books and storing the data online. Google Books has allowed users to read free and public domain books for a while, as well as search for text within copyrighted books, which has led to a few lawsuits.
What’s new in today’s announcement is that you’ll be able to purchase eBooks from major publishers through Google eBooks and read them on a variety of devices using either the web reader or native apps.
The iOS app doesn’t appear to be available from the App Store just yet, but I downloaded the Android app and took it for a spin this morning. The first time you run the app you’re greeted by a screen asking you for your Google account, followed by a message asking if you’d like to synchronize your last page read, bookmarks, and other data online. This way you can stop reading a book on one device and pick up where you left off on another. You can also access any book you’ve purchased on one device on another, or find them on the web.
Once that’s done, you’ll find a list of books in your library. You can hit the Get eBooks link to open up the Google eBooks store in a web browser. Any book you add to your library, whether free or paid will then be added to your library, at which point it’s available for download.
The reader itself is pretty basic. If you’re reading a book that’s been scanned, like the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which you can see in the screenshot above, you’ll actually see the original pages. You an zoom by pinching, or adjust the screen brightness or choose day or night themes from the settings menu, and that’s about it.
But you can also convert the format to “Flowing Text,” which uses your device’s native fonts to display the text. At that point you can adjust the font, text size, line spacing, and justification.
Google’s eBook prices appear comparable to those of other major eBook sellers including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple iBooks. Google has also partnered with third party booksellers, to power digital eBook stores for Powell’s Alibris, and others.
Overall, I’m not sure what the world needs is yet another way to purchase and download the same eBooks and access them in another eReader… but Google may have a few aces up its sleeve. First, the web reader really means that you’ll be able to access your books almost anywhere. Second, if you’re already tied into Google’s suite of services as a Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Checkout, and Android user, I can see the appeal of a Google eBooks service tied to your existing account. Third, and perhaps most importantly, because Google has spent a lot of time scanning books, the company has what’s possibly the largest library of free and paid books available, currently at about 3 million titles.
While that doesn’t necessarily mean that every book you’re looking for will be available, it’s a pretty good start.
Google eBooks is currently only available in the US, but Google says its working with publishers around the globe to widen the scope of the service.
You can check out more screenshots below.