all your books are belong to us

Suddenly, a new contender enters the arena:

In discussions with publishers at the annual BookExpo convention in New York over the weekend, Google signaled its intent to introduce a program by that would enable publishers to sell digital versions of their newest books direct to consumers through Google. The move would pit Google against, which is seeking to control the e-book market with the versions it sells for its Kindle reading device.

Google’s move is likely to be welcomed by publishers who have expressed concerns about the possibility that Amazon will dominate the market for e-books with its aggressive pricing strategy. Amazon offers Kindle editions of most new best-sellers for $9.99, a price far lower than the typical $26 at which publishers sell new hardcovers. In early discussions, Google has said it would allow publishers to set a suggested list price, but that Google would ultimately set consumer prices.


Under the new program, publishers give Google digital files of new and other in-print books. Already on Google, users can search up to about 20 percent of the content of those books and can follow links from Google to online retailers like and the Web site of Barnes & Noble to buy either paper or electronic versions of the books. But Google is now proposing to allow users to buy those digital editions direct from Google.

As the NYT suggests, Google’s involvement does undercut the possibility of Amazon exerting absolute monopoly power through the Kindle – but only because that power would shift to the even larger Google. Put it like this: has Microsoft’s hegemony in software been good for programming? Not so much? Well, welcome to the new world of publishing.

Okay, so the analogy is not exact but it’s not a million miles off, either. If the Google format becomes industry standard (which seems quite likely), we would then have a single corporation controlling a crucial step in the publication and distribution of books. Given the twentieth anniversary of Tiananmen Square, it’s timely to recall Google’s capitulation to the censors in order to enter the Chinese market. Are we really comfortable with such people making the running on e-publishing? If not, what are we going to do about it?

We urgently need a discussion of what’s happening with e-publishing. Very soon, it’s going to be too late.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. This is a problem for everyone concerned with books from witers, publishers, booksellers to readers.____
    There seems to be little action in developing a coherent plan for our market, with copyright issues seemingly a major sticking point. With e-books widely available in the US market and NOT here we seem destined to end up with a Google/Amazon solution.____
    This isn't so bad for the majority of consumers, but when you see Google's response to political sensitivities and Amazon's 'accidental reclassification' of gay and lesbian books the benefits are suddenly outweighed by the costs.____
    Add to this the lack of care for our domestic creative industry and we will be danger of losing control of our market.____
    In the digital age content is where the action is… and I challenge anyone to find significant aggregated e-book content (that is not open source) that can be purchased in Australia using an Australian credit card or paypal account.

  2. It's as if all the controversy and hysteria on the subject of e-readers has been off topic. By which I mean, so much talk about is the book dead, who can read on the screen etc, and not enough consideration of the implications of such a monopoly. Though I suppose some of the concern about the Google Guttenberg project has been expressed in these terms.

  3. Yes. Hey, it might be an interesting subject for,  say, two literary magazines to discuss at a writers’ festival or something. J

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