On one of my online groups someone started a discussion about Google Books.  I chimed in because I had concerns about Google’s normal lack of consumer friendliness and the cloud storage thing.

Why bother with the ugly Google Books store when you can use [Amazon] Kindle which has more device support, a larger catalog and actual customer service?

One of the groups members responded.

Being able to read a book in a browser isn’t elegant.  But technically I could read it just about anywhere, on anything that has a browser and I don’t need a specialised piece of hardware to do so.  Do you get what I’m saying?

He’s correct.  Very few are going to sit and read a novel on the computer. It’s an option that’s not really an option. It’s like trying to promote a car by saying it’s available in pink.

As for the read anywhere options.  Kindle has them all beat.  I don’t use iBooks because the catalog is small. Apple doesn’t have the deals in place. I do have the Nook reader app, the Stanza app, the Borders e-reader app, and the Kindle app for iPad/iPhone. I can read any book from those catalogs and I expect the apps for the Android market can do the same.  I prefer the Kindle solution because of the very large catalog andubiquitous device support — for me that means Macs and iPhones/iPad but Windows and other smart-phones are supported as well. Plus … I can lend my friends/family/coworkers my e-books.

But he did have a point about formats:

The biggest problem with the current trend is that you get locked into a device. Want B&N content? Get a Nook. Amazon? Kindle. Yes, some universal formats (like PDF) work on many devices. But wouldn’t it be nice if there was one universal format and everyone made devices for it?

I don’t think consumer care about “open” in the context of hardware devices ( or even understand what that means ) as much as geeks think they do.  For most consumers, ease of use and utility usually trump open. Otherwise both Microsoft and Apple would be niche players and Linux would be the people’s choice.  Make it easy and understandable and you’ll get the consumer’s dollar.

However, I think consumers do care about data formats and moving data between applications. They don’t care if the formats are proprietary; they just want to know they can get things to work. “Can it read Word documents?” is often the first question I get when I recommend iWork or OpenOffice as a Microsoft Office alternative. No one asks me whether or not the format has been blessed by a standards committee.

Is there an open e-book format that supports a business model where the publishers and authors can protect their intellectual property? ePub is an open standard book format.  iBooks and other a few other readers supports the ePub format.  But once you put right management systems in place the e-book is back to being locked to a single device — negating the advantages of a single standard format and confusing the consumer.

I don’t think we will see a universal e-reader format anytime soon. The fact is that universal right management does not work well. These systems are usually designed around a single shared master and the device or software vendors all share the risk and the reward of the one key. Once that master is leaked or stolen all the content from every vendor is unprotected for every device. Then new keys have to be generated and distributed to all the vendors simultaneously.  Stolen/leaked master keys is one reason why I have to keep updating the firmware in my Blu-ray player or risk not having newer movies work. Last week my Sony Blu-ray player refused to play Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen until I updated the firmware.

I don’t see that Google has done any innovating with Google Books. I think that all they have done is provide a store that can sell you a version of a book that is compatible with your choice of e-reader. A nook device owner still has to buy the nook version of the book. Basically, Google Books is a more of universal e-book store not a universal standard format e-book store.  I already have an app for that.