Google Cranks Up E-Book Service With Almost 4,000 Publishers

Google Inc., owner of the world’s most popular search engine, is starting an electronic book- selling service today with almost 4,000 publishers, in a challenge to Inc. and Apple Inc.

The service, called Google eBooks, features about 3 million titles for free and hundreds of thousands for purchase, the company said today in a post on its website. Publishers include Random House Group Ltd. and HarperCollins Publishers.

“They’re going to have access to many, many more books than anyone else,” said James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “This is the time to be doing it” because the market is growing so quickly, he said.

Google, looking to improve its search service while expanding beyond traditional online advertising, is adding a revenue source that’s built from its multiyear effort to scan the world’s books. The number of electronic-reading devices sold in the U.S. should jump to 29.4 million in 2015 from 3.7 million by the end of last year, according to Forrester.

“This is a rapidly growing market, and there’s obviously plenty of room in this market for a number of competitors,” Scott Dougall, director of product management for Google Books, said in an interview. “We’re taking this seriously.”

The eBooks service can be accessed on computers with modern browsers, smartphones and tablets from multiple operating systems including Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.

E-Reader Access

The service will work on some e-readers as well, including Barnes & Noble Inc.’s Nook. It isn’t accessible on Amazon’s Kindle, Google spokeswoman Jeannie Hornung said.

Google also will let independent booksellers set up digital stores, helping them compete with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Members of the American Booksellers Association are able to participate in the program.

While revenue sharing varies, the publisher receives the majority of the sale through a purchase on Google. With independent booksellers, publishers will typically get the largest portion of the sale, though not necessarily the majority, Hornung said in an interview.

Google’s rivals already are benefitting from growing interest in digital books. The Kindle, which has more than 757,000 books titles, should generate $5.32 billion in revenue in 2012, up from an estimated $2.81 billion for 2010, according to Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst at Caris & Co.

Apple, which launched its electronic book service earlier this year, had 35 million books downloaded through Sept. 1, the company said.

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