SAN FRANCISCO — Google is making the leap from digital librarian to merchant in a challenge to Amazon.com and its Kindle electronic reader. The long-awaited Internet book store, which opened Monday in the United States, draws on a portion of the 15 million printed books Google has scanned into its computers during the past six years.
About 4,000 publishers, including Simon & Schuster, Random House and Penguin Group, are also allowing Google to carry many of their recently released books.
Books bought from Google's store can be read on any machine with a Web browser. There are also free applications that can be installed on Apple's iPad and iPhone, and other devices powered by Google's Android mobile operating system. Google's e-books also will work on the Nook, Sony's Reader devices and practically every other e-reading device except the Kindle.
Electronic books are expected to generate nearly $1 billion in U.S. sales this year and climb to $1.7 billion by 2012 as more people buy electronic readers and computer tablets such as the iPad, according to Forrester Research. The research group expects a total of 15 million e-readers and tablets to have been sold in the United States by the end of the year.
Google says it eventually will be able to make electronic copies of the estimated 130 million books in the world. It's also planning to start selling books outside the United States next year.
Google plans to offer sharp discounts on many of its e-books, but it still will pay publishers 52 percent of the list price for sales made on its site, unless another arrangement has been negotiated with an outside agency.
Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey described Google's latest effort as a "game expander" rather than a game changer. The growing embrace of digital sales by the publishing industry is expected to result in the closing of hundreds more book stores during the next few years as the bricks-and-mortar stores struggle to compete. Cincinnati-based Joseph-Beth Booksellers, which began in Lexington, recently filed for
bankruptcy protection and announced it would close some stores, but not the one in Lexington.
In a move that could delay closures of other retailers, Google is allowing independent book stores to sell its inventory through their own sites. More than 100 book retailers in 36 states have agreed to team up with Google.
Opening the door to book merchants who can't afford to invest heavily in technology could help some of them survive the digital transition, McQuivey said. "At least this gives them a fighting chance."