Google is set to finally launch its long-threatened e-book marketplace - possibly even before the end of the year in the US, according to new comments from the advertising giant.
It's no secret that Google has been eyeing up the e-book market, currently dominated by Amazon, for quite some time - the company currently has a Google Books service that provides access to public domain and out-of-copyright works in both on-line and downloadable formats - but the expected launch never really came to fruition.
With the growing popularity of tablets and eReaders, as well as devices such as the Galaxy Tab which is based on Google's Android platform and comes with an integrated e-book store run by Samsung, it's time for Google to make its move.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Google Editions, the paid-for version of Google Books, will launch in the US by the end of the year with a worldwide roll-out due in Q1 2011 - according to Google's Scott Dougall, anyway.
While the company isn't offering a firm announcement as to a launch time-scale just yet - Dougall tips his hat to the previous delays and disappointments on the project, claiming "because of the complexity of this project, we didn't want to come out with something that wasn't thorough" - booksellers and publishers are receiving contracts from Google that will allow them to take part in Google Editions, suggesting a launch is imminent.
Where Google's offering will differ from the majority of the marketplace is that it will be device agnostic. Following the company's love of web apps - on which it can slap the all-important advertising that brings in the cash - Google Editions will offer on-line access to purchased titles, tying all Google Editions content in to a web-based library tied to a user's Google account, even if the content was purchased from a participating third-party.
The books will also be readable on-line, with the content being formatted specifically to make it a pleasurable reading experience on large-screen devices such as desktops and laptops as well as portable gadgets like smart-phones.
What isn't clear at the moment is whether Google Editions will also offer off-line access to content. Although Google doesn't have a hardware eReader in the market - unlike rivals such as Barnes & Nobel, Sony, and Amazon - its Android software powers a range of tablets, slates, and eReaders. If Google doesn't offer the ability to download Google Editions content for off-line use, in a format such as ePub, the project could founder as eReader owners move back to their devices' 'official' stores.
With Google's concept of bringing independent booksellers, web site owners, and even bloggers into the fold and allowing them to sell e-books via the programme in exchange for a cut of the proceeds, Amazon could have some serious competition in the next year - but Google is going to have to get several key points right if it wants to succeed.