FRANKFURT – Google is launching a new service for booksellers next year called Google Editions, which will let readers buy books and read them anywhere on gadgets ranging from cell phones to possibly e-book devices.
It's the first foray into charging for books for the Californian company, which began its Google Books program in 2004.
Tom Turvey, head of Google Book Search's publisher partnership program, said the price per book would be set by their publishers and would start with between 400,000 to 600,000 books next year.
"It will be a browser-based access," Turvey said Thursday at the 61st Frankfurt Book Fair. "The way the e-book market will evolve is by accessing the book from anywhere, from an access point of view and also from a geographical point of view."
Google will collect 55 percent of the profits, Turvey said, giving a "vast majority" of that to retailers, and the rest will go to the publisher.
"Google Editions allows retail partners to sell their books, especially those who haven't invested in a digital platform," he said. "We expect the majority (of customers) will go to retail partners not to Google. We are a wholesaler, a book distributor."
He added that Google Editions will be the first time the company will try to monetize their books project. The transactions must be simple he said, and one possibility will be using the already existing transaction platform Google Checkout.
Electronic books are gaining in popularity, led in part by devices like Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle and rival Sony Corp.'s new Reader Pocket Edition.
In 2008, U.S. e-book sales totaled $113 million — up 68 percent from 2007 but still a fraction of the estimated $24.3 billion spent on all books, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Sony's eBook Store includes more than 100,000 books, as well as a million free public-domain books available from Google Inc. through its Google Books project. The Kindle Store currently has more than 330,000 available titles.
The Kindle can only download books from Amazon's store, while Sony's Readers can display texts sold in the "epub" format — an open standard supported by the International Digital Publishing Forum that numerous publishers use to make e-books.
Also Thursday, a Google executive responded Thursday to criticism from the German government, saying that there had been a "misunderstanding" regarding book copyrights as the firm works to make books available online.
"I think there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding Google Books," said David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer. "We never scan copyright protected books in Europe. We recognize that in each country the ultimate design could be different. People think we scan copyright protected books. That's false."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said this weekend in her weekly video podcast that the Internet carries "significant dangers" for the rights of authors.
"For the (German) government, it is clear that copyright also must find its place on the Internet," she said. "That is why we reject books simply being scanned in without any copyright protection, as is being done by Google."
She added that the government will work to protect authors' rights in Germany.
Drummond said at the press conference that Google Books is using the U.S. "Fair-Use" principle as its guide in the states.
A U.S. federal judge set a Nov. 9 deadline for submission of a revised agreement in the battle over Google's effort to attain digital rights to millions of out-of-print books. The U.S. Justice Department filed papers last month, saying the $125 million agreement "raises significant legal concerns" and was likely to conclude that it breaks federal antitrust law.
The Justice Department also said that the deal could drive up prices because Google might gain a monopoly on some out-of-print books. The original agreement was reached in October 2008.
Ongoing litigation regarding this issue is expected to be resolved by November, Drummond added. Once it's resolved, Google expects to be able to go ahead with the agreement it reached with U.S. publishing firms a year ago, with a few changes, he said.
"It's an arrangement that carries public benefit, making books available to students and others," he added.
The company is moving ahead with reaching bilateral agreements with publishers worldwide, he said.
About 30,000 partnerships have already been established, with more than 9,000 of those in Europe. Google has already scanned about 2 million books and made them available online, with those that are copyrighted limited to a few pages within the search terms.