Sony + Google: 1 Million eBooks And Counting

The eBook arms race continues.

Today Sony announced that its public domain offerings from Google in its eBook store has reached 1 million volumes. That's a lot of eBooks. For context, the Library of Congress has 32 million books and is the world's largest library; Harvard's collection is 5th largest at 15 million books. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) So we're merrily trucking along at digitizing the world's collection of books.

(By the way, if you've ever wondered how Google goes about digitizing books, check out this cool graphic from their patent.)

This news follows Barnes & Noble's announcement last week that they, too, have a partnership with Google, and will be offering their content in their eBookstore via apps on smartphones and PCs (and eventually the much anticipated Plastic Logic eReader).

Here's what I think the implications are:

  • eReader device manufacturers realize that without content, their products are doorstops. If CE manufacturers have learned anything from Apple, its that no matter how sexy your hardware is, content sells a device. Among US online consumers who don't currently own an eReader, 21% say that a "greater selection of eBooks" would be a feature most likely to cause them to consider an eReader (source: Forrester's North American Consumer Technographics(r) Media & Advertising Online Survey, Q2 2009).
  • Open platforms are an effective strategy for battling Amazon. The definition of "open" is up for debate--B&N claims that their platform is open, but you can't buy books from their store and read them on the Sony Reader or the Kindle. But Amazon's platform is undeniably the least open--if you were really determined, you could sideload Google eBooks and library books onto your Kindle, but it's really a device optimized for buying books from Amazon and reading them on the Kindle (or the iPhone app for the Kindle). Sony and B&N have countered Amazon's completely closed platform by integrating Google's content more seamlessly into their eBookstores. Giving consumers more choice of content, including free content, is good marketing, even if consumers end up just buying bestsellers anyway.
  • We are witnessing the beginning of the complete digitization of books. This is truly a transformational moment in the history of human communication and technology: We are taking humanity's entire collection of print books, centuries in the making, and digitizing them in less than one human's lifetime. When you think about what changes have occurred related to the digitization of music, it makes you a little bit awed at what's to come for books.