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Google Editions could mean e-books everywhere

Books on your browser? Some people already read books online without a dedicated e-reader. But Google’s reportedly imminent entry into the e-books world could make the practice much more common.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Google will be launching its e-bookstore as early as June. The e-books customers purchase can be read on a good old Web browser — no fancy iPad, Kindle, Nook or (Sony) Reader needed.

I can imagine how this might be exciting to avid readers. Because many people have Net access almost everywhere they go, Google Edition customers would never need to lament that they wished they had brought a book with them. They could finish those last few pages of a really good book during a break at work, or on their smartphone as they stand in a long line for a latte.

If you already have an e-reader, this could be good news for you, too: It expands your options about where to get your books, as long as your device can access the Web.

I can also see how Google’s entry into the world of e-books would excite publishers. It’s yet another high-profile plug for reading and buying books. The print book business might be struggling, but the e-books business is growing; publishers need only find the right balance to profitability.

Of course, Google has a couple of legal and old-school hurdles. Old-fashioned readers like the feel, touch and smell of printed books. They turn their noses up at e-readers. But I would guess that the possibility of being able to read anywhere without having to buy a new device might entice some of those readers. As for the legal hurdle, it involves reworking of a settlement on Google’s right to distribute out-of-print books. (See “Another rewrite urged for Google Books deal.”) A U.S. district court judge is deliberating the case.

Lastly, if you believe Google has good intentions, this latest venture might bolster that faith: By making its e-books platform-agnostic, it seems to be staying committed to its declarations of openness and bringing information to the masses. On the other hand, it does stand to make good money by opening up its e-bookstore to as many channels as possible.

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