Hey, what happened to Google Editions?

For some reason, Google has had a hard time getting its digital bookstore off the ground. Analysts say there's no rush.

Google executives said last spring that they expected to finally begin selling digital books by "June or July." But we're now deep into September and still no store.

Digital readers are hot but Google is taking its time getting into the game. Greg Sandoval/CNET

In May, The Wall Street Journal reported that Chris Palma, Google's manager for strategic-partner development, announced the timetable for Google's launch during an appearance at a conference for book publishers here in New York. The news ratcheted up anticipation.

And now it's looking more like a case of delayed gratificaton. So what's the holdup?

"The real answer is, we'll launch the service when it's ready," Google spokeswoman Jeannie Hornung tells CNET. She later added: "We definitely have plans to launch later this year."

Hornung at first downplayed Palma's statements. In an interview with CNET, she suggested that Palma only offered "June or July" as a possibility. She didn't detail the reasons why Google Editions isn't out yet but she did talk about some of the difficulties in executing the kind of ambitious plan Google has for the book store. That is undoubtedly true but we also can't forget that Google's initial launch date was for the first half of this year.

Google was a believer in digital books long before we saw the Kindle or the iPad. For years, the company has said it would one day build a digital bookstore and more recently talked about enabling users to read books across varying reader-software and devices. Buying a book from Google Editions would mean reading on any e-reader equipped with a "modern browser," Hornung said. Users can also maintain their digital-book libraries on Google's servers.

My colleague Tom Krazit wrote this after the Journal published its story in May:

One key difference between Google's approach to digital-book sales and the approaches used by Amazon and Apple is that Google customers will not be able to download books sold through the store: they'll be accessible exclusively through a Web browser. That has some advantages for Google, in that it side-steps messy DRM (digital rights management) questions and allows it to offer the service for any device, rather than having to negotiate deals.

The plan for Google Editions sounds like a win for consumers and has been widely applauded by those in the traditional publishing sector.

But if Google Editions doesn't get off soon, doesn't the store risk missing the holiday shopping season or falling further behind in an e-book sector filled with tough competitors, including Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Apple?

Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research who covers the digital book industry, said she doesn't think Google will end up short on cash if Google Editions is delayed once again.

"I don't think there's any rush," Epps said. "We expect tremendous growth in the sector over the next five years so Google is in no way going to miss the market by not launching this summer."

CNET editor John Falcone contributed to this story.

 

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