Google Editions, a long-gestating project probably due out relatively soon, is still not very well understood. Most of the details haven’t been disclosed, but we’re starting to get a general sense of the philosophy behind the project. Google intends for Editions to be much more than, say, the iBookstore, which is tied to one app and one company’s hardware. It’ll be open and device-agnostic, even more so than Amazon’s Kindle store, because all Editions will require is a Web browser (Kindle still needs an app).
The New York Times revealed another element of Editions yesterday: a somewhat unexpected deal with the American Booksellers Association, the trade group for independent bookstores. The ABA is in talks with Google to make Editions the primary source of e-books for all of its 1,400 member bookstores nationwide. So the booksellers, even small shops living on the razor’s edge of profit, would be able to move into digital bookselling in their own way.
The American Booksellers Association sees this as a way to continue the major advantage independent bookstores still have, ambiance not included: recommendations. Google will also sell Editions books themselves, but Darin Sennet of Powell’s bookstore in Portland does not seem worried about that competition:
“I don’t see Google directly working to undermine or outsell their retail partners,” he said. “I doubt they are going to be editorially recommending books and making choices about what people should read, which is what bookstores do.”
He added, “I wonder how naïve that is at this point. We’ll have to see.”
It remains to be seen if such an unusual structure can work for an e-book retailer. There’s no real precedent for this kind of ethereal, flexible, open store that launches without a particular device.