We may as well get this out of the way: soon. That's still the best estimate of when Google Editions will launch in either the U.S. or Europe. But traffic at the Google booth in Hall 8 of the Frankfurt Book Fair has been bustling, and Google's cloud-based e-book program has been warmly embraced at this year's fair--quite a change from last year, when concerns simmered over the company's settlement with American publishers and authors, and one German critic, academic Roland Reuss, boiled over, memorably accusing Google and its partners of "fetishizing access."
This year, however, publishers seem eager for Google Editions, and most say they are happy to have Google enter the rapidly growing e-book market. At a CEO panel on the fair's opening day, Simon & Schuster president Carolyn Reidy praised the program for offering a way for small bookstores to sell e-books. "This is important," Reidy said. "We feel in the coming years a store that cannot hold on to their customers both physically and digitally will cease to exist." Other publishers, who asked not to be named because they are still in discussions, praised Google's flexibility in working with publishers and authors on sale terms, and its cloud-based program that allows books to be read on any device with a browser.
At the TOC conference prior to the fair, O'Reilly Media's Joe Wikert, a self-proclaimed avid e-book reader, said he was an early adopter of the first Kindle and waited on line for an iPad, but quoted Irish band U2 in his assessment of the e-book market: "I still haven't found what I'm looking for." Wikert said he is wary of the lock-ins both devices require, and many agreed. Google's cloud-based vision, however, would seem to move the e-book world a step closer to a device-agnostic market that could sweep in an even broader number of customers. A Google spokesperson said more than 35,000 publisher partners are now enrolled in Google's partner program, with more than two million books digitized through the partner program. Some 15 million books in total have been digitized by Google Books, in 100 languages.
So what's changed between this year and last for Google at Frankfurt? The short answer: time. Perhaps the e-book market surge over the last 12 months has pushed things to a tipping point, with real money now at stake for publishers, new tablet devices for consumers like the iPad, smartphones everywhere, and lower prices for the Kindle and other devices. Google's Santiago de la Mora (who was on the panel with Reuss last year) agreed, telling PW that as people's understanding of the e-book business and its importance does seem to have evolved, and as it has, the anticipation over Google Editions has grown.