While everyone mostly went bananas for dedicated ereader devices this Christmas, a very different concept of digital publishing and reading has been unfolding both in the United States and here in Australia. This kind of ebook doesn’t rely on the use of a dedicated reading device or any device in particular. These books exist primarily out there on the web in the ‘cloud’. It’s a concept that dispenses even with the concept of a book as an electronic ‘file’: this is the book as a ‘service’. Google declared their long-awaited eBookstore finally open in December. Google being Google, created a slick little video explaining the process: in short, books will be available to multiple devices, bookmarked, and (mostly) stored on Google’s servers. The idea is that you can hop from one device to another—from laptop to tablet to phone—without missing a beat of the text you’re reading.
This is great news for anyone who doesn’t want to be tied to a single device and solves a few problems around what happens to all your books if you lose or upgrade your ereader.
Though you can purchase directly from their own site, Google’s plan is not to become a bookseller as such. Instead, they provide a platform for existing booksellers to host and sell ebooks. To this end, Google is working with the American Booksellers Association and partnering with independent booksellers. So far it’s available only in the US. Everyone outside gets – you’ll never guess – public domain titles. Honestly, I might have been tempted to read that Jane Austen novel until it got rammed down my throat by every ereader in existence.
Actually, no, not really. I was never going to read it. But it’s still annoying. Which is why the second development is so much more fascinating.
Booki.sh is a partnership between Readings Bookstore, the Small Press Underground Network, and Inventive Labs. The partnership has been fruitful with a combination of great content—with Australian writers finally represented and many available internationally—and a slick shopping and reading interface that makes the process quick and painless.
As the web site explains: ‘In Booki.sh, an ebook is a web link—we believe books are part of the web in much the same way as a YouTube video is part of the web. It’s always there when you want it, but you don’t “download” anything.’
Now this is great marketing copy, but a niggling question remains: do you ‘own’ a title when you’ve just shelled out fifteen bucks for a web link? The comparison with YouTube might be okay, but I don’t pay for that video of a kid falling asleep into his cereal bowl.
By investing in cloud reading, both Google and Booki.sh have demonstrated they are playing a long game and betting that the dedicated ereader—the Kindle and its ilk—will either acquire new functions like web browsing or disappear into irrelevance. Only time, of course, will tell, but the fact that the Kindle is already acquiring games and other apps beyond its reading function would seem to indicate that Google and Booki.sh are onto something.
Regardless, it is heartening to see the great Australian writing available digitally and not tied into any particular device or brand. Many readers have demonstrated they are okay leaving paper behind for pixels, but it will be interesting to see if we are equally comfortable with leaving behind a digital file as well.