@ BEA: Is Google eBooks Planning A Rental Service?

What’s next from Google (NSDQ: GOOG) eBooks? An e-book rental service, perhaps? Scott Dougall, Google Books Director of Product Management, wouldn’t officially confirm this morning that a Netflix-like model is in the works, but his tone suggested it’s on the way: “We haven’t announced anything like that.” [pause] “Yet.”
The panel at BookExpo America, “Three R’s of Google eBooks: Reading, Regions and Retailing,” was part of Google’s push to reach out to publishers at BEA. Dougall wouldn’t say where the Google eBookstore, which launched in December 2010, ranks compared to other e-bookstores–“it’s number one in my heart, we don’t comment on any of that”–but it is not yet a major player in the e-book market. Recent estimates suggest that the Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) Kindle store holds 60 percent of the e-book market, Nook somewhere between 20 and 25 percent, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iBookstore is at 10 percent, and Kobo is at less than 10 percent. That leaves very little room for Google.
Dennis Johnson, co-founder of independent publisher Melville House and blogger at Moby Lives, reported this morning that publishers have found it “almost impossible since the beginning of the year to enroll, let alone load [their] books into the Google eBookstore…primary sources have told us at Melville House, and have told every other publisher we know, including some imprints at the big houses, [that] Google has pulled all its programmers off the eBookstore.”
Not surprisingly, Dougall did not comment on any of the above. He did provide some stats and answered audience questions. Here’s what we learned:
>>Google eBooks is currently partnered with 7,000 active U.S. publishers and over 250 retailers (mainly independent bookstores) selling Google eBooks from their stores and websites.
>>Google Books apps, which are available for Android, iOS, Nook, Sony (NYSE: SNE), and the web, have been installed over 2.5 million times.
>>Google Books has found that over 25 percent of its users do most of their reading online. 25 percent read on their phones, 20 percent read on e-readers, and the remaining roughly 30 percent read on tablets (iPads and others).
>>New York Times bestsellers make up a quarter of the Google eBookstore’s business. Nonfiction makes up over half of sales, but most of the books on Google’s top 100 bestseller list are fiction. “Android users read more fiction than iPad users,” Dougall said. “I’m sure there’s a joke in that somewhere.”
>>A new feature that lets app users view two pages at a time was added as a “direct result of user demand” and Dougall said Google tries to prioritize new features based on what users are requesting.
>>As part of its efforts to reach out to independent booksellers, Google will hold “petting zoos” in these stores–where customers can look at and touch an array of e-reading devices. The aim is to “demystify the technology behind reading and consuming e-books.”
>>Google Books will soon roll out an affiliate program for bloggers and others who link to the Google eBookstore and resell Google e-books through their websites.
>>Google hopes to offer physical/digital book bundles, but publishers are standing in the way. “We’d love to get there. Consumers love bundling,” Dougall said. “But it’s up to the publishing industry to be more open-minded” about allowing discounts on bundles.
>>Google doesn’t currently have plans to acquire digital content the way Amazon has. “We’re not out there looking to buy exclusive content,” Dougall said.