Google announced today that it is getting into the e-book retailing business, competing directly with the current leader in e-book sales, the Amazon Kindle.
The unique selling proposition of Google e-books i that they are stored “in the cloud,” and you can read them on any computer or device: any Web browser, the iPhone, any Android-powered smartphone, the iPad, the Barnes & Noble Nook, or the Sony E-Reader. Any device except the current leader in e-book sales, the Amazon Kindle.
The problem with this approach for me is that the only device on which I want to read a book is the Amazon Kindle. I’m not going to sit down and read my 900-page biography of George Washington on my laptop. I’m not going to read a Colin Dexter mystery on the office iPad. Like Google books, I can read my Kindle e-books on my laptop, on the iPad, on most smartphones – except my Palm Pre, but that’s a post for another day. But unlike Google e-books, I can also read them on the Kindle, and that makes all the difference.
The Kindle — along with the other e-readers — is purpose-built for reading. It’s incredibly light, easy on the eyes, easy to take and find notes on. For me the Kindle’s main advantage over Barnes & Noble and Sony is the keyboard. (That’s also one of the things I love about my Palm Pre. I guess I just need my keyboards to have keys.)
The iPad is not an e-reader. It’s too heavy, it doesn’t fit neatly into your hands (not mine anyway) and it feels like I’m reading a screen rather than a reasonable approximation of paper. And I’m sorry, but the much-vaunted appeal of the page-turning gesture is lost on me.
I am glad that Google is getting into the e-book retail game. The more competitors in this market, the better I think for authors, publishers, and readers. But with all Google’s talk of the “cloud” notwithstanding, books are tangible, tactile, things. And as it turns out, so are e-books. I still want to hold them in my hands.