Tuesday, December 07, 2010

My Thoughts on Google Books

Google entered the ebook market heavily yesterday with the debut of the Google eBookstore, a cloud based ebook experience that promises that you can "use just about any device with an Internet connection to read over 3 million books." Books are stored in a Cloud and accessed when you download them to your device (where they are still accessible if your device goes off its wireless connection). Smartly, Google Books can be read on Android, iPhone/iPod/iPad Touch, the Nook and the Sony eReader, as well as on a desktop or laptop. They can't be read on the Kindle but are "open to the possibility" should Amazon allow that. For Android and Apple, apps are available to allow reading on the mobile devices. For Nook and Sony, epub files are downloaded in the Adobe Digital Editions format, and can be manually transferred to these devices.

I downloaded the iPad app yesterday afternoon (after several failed attempts in the morning, due either to high demand or - as the app wasn't even coming up in a search of the app store - possible shenanigans.) I discovered that "My Google eBooks" page comes loaded with several free selections - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice (sans zombies). I played with the reader, and then downloaded a sample of Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora (the author, along with George RR Martin, that I most want to see in the store of my preferred ebook reading app, iBooks).

As an app, Google Books  is perfunctory and serviceable, but the least versatile of all the major readers (Stanza, iBooks, Nook for iPad, Kobo, Kindle for iPad). You can change the font, font size, invert the background to white on black, and (nicely) adjust the "line height" (the space between sentences, what we call the "leading" - something the Nook for iPad also does). But there is no dictionary feature, and there doesn't appear to be any way to link to a website from text. There is a neat feature that allows you to switch between "flowing text" and "scanned text", the latter being an actual reproduction of the scanned pages. I imagine this could be useful when reading public domain works in which the OCR created errors in the text due to mistakes in scanning, but not one I personally am likely to get much use out of.

Opening the sample of The Lies of Locke Lamora, I was disappointed to see that the two maps at the beginning were too small to be legible. Google Books allows you to place your finger over a section of the page to enlarge the text/image, but doing so produced an image so grainy as to be even more indecipherable. So based on this experience, and the lack of the dictionary and other features, I personally wouldn't use the Google app as a primary eBook reader.

Perhaps more interesting is that apart from a "very small" number of titles, once you purchase a book from the Google eBookstore you can download it in PDF and ePub format. Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is marked "No download files included" for instance, as is its sequel, though The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is not.

So first I got a free copy of Moby Dick from the Google eBookstore, then I downloaded it in ePub and added it manually to my iBooks' library in iTunes. The result - a book from Google successfully imported to my preferred reader, wherein I can use the dictionary and other features. Yay!

I then bought The Lies of Locke Lamora as a test. It does allow me to download the ePub file, but in Adobe Digital Editions format, which neither iBooks (as expected) nor Stanza (surprise!) could open. Sadly, I am now testing Google's customer service by seeing how easily I can request and receive a refund.

So my personal take: The Google eBookstore will be a great way to easily procure and read the "millions" of free titles already available from Google, but I personally will transfer such works to better readers, and I won't be purchasing any books from Google since their app fails to break my preferred app order of iBooks, Nook for iPad, Kindle for iPad, all of which are much sexier and versatile reading apps.

However, competition is always good. Already Amazon has announced that they will soon introduce Kindle for the web, enabling users to "to read full books in the browser" as well as allowing "any Website to become a bookstore offering Kindle books." It's extremely likely that the Google app will add features as it goes, and if it adds downloadable epub editions beyond the Adobe Digital Editions versions, I would use the bookstore for commercial purchases. As we all know, it's still very early days on ebooks, and their evolution is just accelerating.


Jay said...

Also, not available in Europe yet.

Christian Berntsen said...

Downloaded the app yesterday for my iPhone, and wasn't overly impressed. I didn't purchase anything on it, but did download one of the free books. I found the way it shows you where you are in the book a bit confusing (but then, as someone who is used to sticking a finger where he's at in a pBook and looking at his progress in a more visual manner, doing the same with eBooks has proven to be an adjustment, especially with being able to customize font size, etc). When I adjust the type to a more comfortable size, I see the same page number spread out over more screens. And jumping to a different story--the book was actually a short story collection--was a bit akward.

I agree this isn't a primary eReader, at least not yet. And some day I'll upgrade to an iPad. Someday.

Lou Anders said...

Do it, do it!

Jeff C said...

Lou..the nook app on your iPad should be able to read the DRM'ed pub. I think kobo and bluefire should read it, too. At least I think kobo and the nook apps allow side loaded content now..I know they do on my android phone.

You need to try reading on a nook color. That is my reader of choice now :)

Lou Anders said...

Hi Jeff,
I've seen the Nook color and it looks very impressive. It would be my reader if I didn't have an iPad already. But my understanding is that while you can load your own content onto a Nook, you can't yet with Nook for iPad (at least that I am aware).

Seth said...

Any attempts at making more titles available as ePub is good in my books. We haven't got the Google app in Australia yet either, but hopefully it won't be too far away.

There are ways to strip the DRM from Adobe Digital Edition ePub books. I've done this with all the ePub titles I've purchased for exactly the same reason as you - iBooks is my preferred reader. I appreciate that some may take issue with this, but the way I see it, I've paid perfectly good money to buy a perfectly legal copy of a book. For me, this isn't an issue of piracy or taking mony out of the hands of those who have worked for it. Having paid, the least I should be able to do is read it on the app I want and not be tied to Adobe's horrible reader.

J.M. Martin said...

Ah, yet another reason the Nook Color seems to be the most appealing Christmas purchase for me this year.

Lou Anders said...

JM - I liked the color Nook a LOT when I saw it. Amazon remains in the lead for the most books, but I don't find the Kindle as comfortable.

Tama said...

Only the Bluefire Reader app works with Adobe Epub.