Google's just signed a deal with U.K. company Interead that means Google's half-million texts from Google Books are now accessible to Interead's customers at its CoolerBooks.com website. It's the first time Books has left the U.S.
Interead is making some bold claims about this deal, noting that the inclusion of the Google API that makes those out-of-print texts available for free from CoolerBooks.com effectively turns it into "the largest ebookstore in the world, with over one million titles available for purchase or free access." The press release also makes a big play on the document formats: "Unlike other ebookstores, CoolerBooks.com accommodates 19 document formats: these include EPub and PDF, and MP3 for audio books, giving this ebookstore the broadest range of formats on the web. The company even markets its own e-book, the CoolReader, but notes its book files will work on other devices too.
While this is quite a coup for Interead, can we read it as Google stealing a march on Amazon in the electronic book wars? Kind of...but there're a number of things to realize. Amazon and Google follow two very different financial models: Amazon's selling its own product, Apple-style, tying its text archive to it, and making money on the back of individual book sales. Google's products, meanwhile, are free to end-users, and Google expects to make money through advertising links. And while Google's books comprise an extremely extensive library, they're all out of print documents--with copyright ostensibly in the public domain, though there's much controversy on this--whereas Amazon's got a rich archive of recent and just-released content that more closely models a traditional paper-based bookstore. So while Google has indeed beaten Amazon to a market outside the U.S., it's competing on a slightly different basis. What the deal has done is enable CoolerBooks.com to try to corner the U.K. and European online book market well ahead of Amazon's efforts--and it'll be interesting to see how Amazon responds to this challenge.