3 Ways Google Can Succeed in E-books

Last week, Google finally launched Google eBooks (formerly called Google Editions), its cloud-based e-book marketplace and reader. While the reaction so far has been mixed, the company scored points for its browser-centric approach and its affiliate program that provides indie book retailers with a way to avoid becoming e-book wallflowers.

But despite these strengths, Google’s success in e-books is far from a sure thing. Of all the digital media markets at the moment, e-books is seeing the most change, propelled by a new crop of low-cost e-reader devices, cheap e-books and a rush by big players across the entire book ecosystem to establish a beachhead in the market.

But Google’s biggest hurdle may be that nimble market leader, Amazon. As it did with the launch of the iPad, Amazon reacted quickly to Google’s e-book launch, this time by releasing its own browser-based e-book reader and affiliate program that allows web sites and blogs to sell Kindle e-books on their site and earn affiliate fees.

So with an Amazon counterpunch aimed at directly Google’s primary e-book differentiators, what exactly should Google do to ensure its bookstore effort is a success?

Below are three suggestions:

Put Indie Bookstores First

Indie bookstores must have felt digital deja vu watching Amazon own the conversation (as well as market share) in the newly hot e-book market after being pummeled for 10 years by the online book giant. With Google’s arrival, some see a white knight that will allow them to sell e-books using a Google-powered backend.

But are the indies hopes in Google misplaced? When a consumer searches for an e-book using Google search, the first sponsored result they’ll likely get is Google’s own e-book store, with no local affiliate offered up as a partner. It’s likely that once a consumer establishes a direct relationship with Google for e-book purchases, any chance at the customer’s local Google e-book affiliate owning the consumer relationship is lost.

Given that word of mouth and curation is the lifeblood of community bookstores, Google needs to put indie bookstore partners at the front of the line (and not the back). By geo-sensing location and offering an affiliate bookstore site (powered by Google), Google will make its affiliates true partners instead of simply leeching off their lack of technical know-how.

Solve The Payment Issue

Google’s achilles heel in content has historically been payments. Despite its efforts with Google Checkout, Google’s never become the default payment portal for many consumers. In fact, the company’s Android market app payment system has created so much disenchantment that Angry Birds creator Rovio decided to create its own carrier-billing based system as an alternative.

If Google is going to swim in the same e-book waters as Amazon and Apple — both leaders in terms of consumer loyalty for digital goods — it’s going to have to figure out payments fast. One answer may be carrier billing, but Google’s biggest issue is that it hasn’t established itself as a trustworthy brand that would compel a consumer to hand over a credit card. The company needs to work hard on changing this perception.

A Google-Branded E-reader

While Google’s e-reader strategy is to leverage Android tablet partners, the company should create its own Google branded e-reader. The reason for this is that Kindle has effectively become shorthand for e-reader for many consumers. By aggressively hitting the market with its own branded e-readers, Google can show consumers that all e-readers do not, in fact, come from Amazon.

Question of the week

What must Google do to counter Amazon in the e-book space?
Relevant analyst in Kindle
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2 Comments Subscribers to comment

  1. The user experience of the Kindle is unique at the moment: 1) the e-ink display provides nearly print quality, 2) you can buy books everywhere in the world (no 3G plan, Wifi hotspot, or PC needed), 3) Amazon provides the biggest collection of high-quality and relevant books, 4) you can read for two weeks without recharging.

    A Google e-reader must satisfy all four points and add something extra. Even the iPad is far behind the Kindle with respect to these four criteria – and even further in market share. What could the extra be?

    Google could go after the non-English speaking markets, where Amazon doesn’t have a presence at the moment. Europe is the prime example. E-readers haven’t caught on yet and there are only small players in the market (unlike the US market with Amazon and Barnes&Nobles). Google could conquer the European market first and then spread into the American market.

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  2. @Burkhard – good points. I think Amazon’s Kindle (as well as some of the other newer e-readers on the market) are much more attuned to a the needs of a reader and their desire for a friction-free reading experience than, say, what is required with Google e-books at the outset.

    Google does have an opportunity in other geographies. Another way I didn’t mention Google could succeed is through an ad-supported e-reading marketplace (or at least ad-subsidized). No one has really pushed ad-supported book reading to any degree, and that would make alot of sense for Google.

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