How Will We Read? Google or Kindle

Yesterday, Amazon announced the Kindle 2 at a Press Conference at the Pierpoint Morgan Library. A few days ago Google released Google Book Search Mobile, an implementation of their rapidly growing digital library. What do these two events tell us about the way that Amazon and Google see us reading digital books?

  1. Amazon have 230,000 books available for purchase on the Kindle. Google have 1.5 million.
  2. The Kindle is still only available to US purchasers. The Google Book Search resource can be used eveywhere, but only 620,000 of those titles can be read in full and accessed page by page ex-USA.
  3. To read the digital books in the Amazon collection you need to first buy a dedicated reader which will cost you $399. The Google titles can be read on any system which supports a web browser.
  4. The Amazon collection includes many front list titles, many new best-sellers and they are often priced at $9.99 (ie less than the price of the equivalent hardback). All the Google books are old titles, many of them of very little interest to today’s audience. But there are plenty of great works of literature and masses of curiousities (its a bit like Great Granny’s library). They are all free. They are all free….
  5. You can import free books to the Kindle system (eg from a PDF file), but you can certainly import those titles to whatever device you are using to access the Google collection.
  6. Amazon’s system allows the text of any book to ‘flow’ into a scale and type size that suits your reading style. Google BSM also now allows for a downloadable ‘reflowable’ version of the text.
  7. Both systems will allow you to download a book to read it on a plane (or on the subway, where you can not access broadband). But for some of the older books, the Google ASCII downloads are sub-standard.
  8. Amazon gives much more information about the books in the system. Google has very limited meta-data and it is not at all easy to tell what books they have in their ‘library’ (which given the absence of a catalogue may be too polite a term for it).
  9. Amazon and Google’s systems both ‘look’ rather monopolistic, but at this point the Google system is free, so it may be churlish to worry about the Google monopoly just yet. Amazon’s potential monopoly may worry publishers, but Amazon today has plenty of competition from other systems which operate a similar downloadable ebook service (Sony, Iliad, Plastic Logic coming etc).
  10. Every book and every page in the Google service can be directly cited and referenced, which makes their books much better for bloggers and social networks. Amazon’s file format is non-standard, proprietary and wrapped with its own form of DRM (digital rights management).
  11. Kindle’s still lack colour. 16 shades of grey is the best that can be offered for illustrations. Few of the books accessible to Google BSM have any colour, but when contemporary titles are offered on the Google platform. Colour will be no problem for Google.
  12. Neither platform supports the concept of ‘first sale’ (ie second hand books). Google because it is fundamentally an access model, Amazon/Kindle have DRM.
  13. You can’t read Google Books on a Kindle and you can’t read the Kindle books on a PC or a mobile phone. But there have been rumours of Amazon making an announcement of a mobile version of the Kindle system (and Bezos mentioned synchronisation at the press conference) so this might be coming. If and when that happens mobile users will be able to compare Kindle books and GBSM books on the same device.

I have not been keeping the score on these comparisons. Many of them are qualitative trade-offs on which different constituencies will break in opposed directions, but my sense is that in the big picture Google is winning this hands down. The library of our future is going to be much more imbued with Google than with Amazon innovations. Starting from a large and substantially free and open foundation, Google will be attracting many developers and innovators to their track. It will be fascinating to see whether some Android (Google Mobile Phone) devices appear that are specifically geared to the books/newspaper market. Google is aiming to make its Book Search a resource for the whole web and will build a system with which many other web services can interoperate. Amazon is building a system which will allow individuals to purchase and collect titles in a format which suits them and their private needs. Google is aiming at aggregation and integration, Amazon is limited in its vision to using the web as a distribution medium

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