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Signaling renewed competition in the e-reading space, Amazon today debuted a web-based extension to their existing Kindle platform with a new product called Kindle for the Web, which is nearly identical to a product Google announced yesterday dubbed Google eBooks, which is also a cloud-based ebookstore and reading webapp that lives within the browser.
Unlike Google’s dearth of reading devices, Amazon’s new service snaps into the same “buy once, read everywhere” experience that the existing line-up has successfully offered: last-page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights synced and automatically archived across all Kindle hardware and applications for third-party platforms such as iOS, Android, Blackberry and the like.
Kindle for the Web affords a few extra features too: since whole books can now be read in an embeddable reader applet, independent third-party publishers and authors can now preview and sell content directly on their own sites, earning them referral fees through Amazon’s Associates Program.
These fees are in fact the only thing that really separate Kindle for the Web from Google eBooks, which has not yet developed a third-party seller model in their product.
It’s actually hard to see why Google would enter the e-reading market without disruptive new distribution and revenue models, facing up against entrenched competition from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, which can clearly afford to experiment.
There may yet be sensible motivations behind Google bringing a knife to the proverbial gunfight. The company has already digitized nearly 15 million books since 2004 through its separate Google Books project, which allows them to commercially offer 3 million titles right at the outset (including almost 2 million free public domain titles).
They’re also already in the business of providing critical productivity and consumer services over the cloud. For the millions of people who have come to rely on these services, especially those using Android-based mobile devices, choosing Google eBooks as their e-reading experience of choice may be an intuitive choice. In this light, eBooks is just one pillar among many in the company’s cloud-centric strategy. That effort received quite a boost earlier today at the company’s Chrome OS event, which was surprisingly where Amazon chose to demo their new service. Despite competing directly with Google eBooks, it too will support the slew of upcoming cloud-centric Chrome OS notebooks.