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Google launches an online bookstore

Venture’s download service may also help independent stores

Offerings at the Google eBookstore. Offerings at the Google eBookstore.
By D.C. Denison
Globe Staff / December 7, 2010

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There’s a new online bookstore, and it has a familiar name over the door: Google Inc.

Yesterday, the Internet search giant launched Google eBookstore, which will offer users the ability to browse and search through what the company says is “the largest ebooks collection in the world,’’ with more than three million titles, including hundreds of thousands for sale and many more for free.

Although the project is the creation of a global team of Google engineers, “a significant part of the core brain trust of the project is in Cambridge,’’ said Scott Dougall, director of product management at Google Books. The Mountain View, Calif., company has about 200 employees in Kendall Square.

Google’s eBookstore will operate differently than some existing online book services. Most importantly, its books can be read on any device that has a Web browser. That means it is not necessary to use a dedicated e-reader, such as Amazon.com’s Kindle. In fact, Google e-books won’t work on the Kindle because Amazon uses a proprietary format.

Google is getting into the book business as the appetite for e-books is rapidly growing, according to a study by a Cambridge consulting company, Forrester Research Inc. Last month, Forrester predicted that $966 million worth of electronic books will be sold this year. By 2015, the industry segment is expected to have nearly tripled, to almost $3 billion.

Google’s move into online bookselling sets the stage for a showdown with the major e-book player, Amazon.com Inc., said Allen Weiner, a vice president at Gartner Inc., a consulting firm in Stamford, Conn.

“It disrupts the idea that Amazon equals books,’’ Weiner said. “It used to be that people would buy a Kindle because they wanted access to Amazon’s huge number of e-books. Now they can buy any device they want and access a huge number of e-books via the Google eBookstore.’’

Amazon did not respond to a request for a comment.

E-books from Google can also be read by using applications, or apps, already available for devices that run on Apple or Android operating systems. Most major publishers, including Random House, Simon and Schuster, and Penguin are participating in the Google store, as are smaller scholarly publishers such as Oxford University Press.

Customers can access the books they buy from nearly any device, such as a smartphone or tablet computer, by logging on to their Google accounts. Because the books can be “read anywhere,’’ the company said, a user can start an e-book in a desktop Web browser and continue reading later on a smartphone, iPad, or other device that can connect to the Internet.

Google e-books will also be available as PDF files, and in the emerging open source ePub format that many publishers and e-reading gadgets share.

“We are committed to creating an open ecosystem for e-books,’’ said Tom Turvey, director of strategic partnerships at Google.

But Google has licensed a digital rights program from Adobe Systems Inc., based in San Jose, Calif., to prevent users from sharing book content.

Google’s e-book business also features partnerships with independent bookstores, which will sell book downloads through their own websites. Google will act as the wholesaler, supplying access to the e-books and giving independent retailers a cut of the purchase price. Across the United States, many independent booksellers have closed in recent years or are struggling as they face competition not only from major chains, but from downloads.

Hugobooks Inc., which has bookstores in Andover, Newburyport, and Marblehead, is one of the first bookstores to partner with Google.

“We’re excited because this gives us a way to get into the e-book game,’’ said general manager John Hugo. “We can finally tell our customers, ‘If you want to buy e-books, you can buy e-books from us.’ ’’

D.C. Denison can be reached at denison@globe.com.