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Google nearly ready to challenge Apple, Amazon with e-bookstore

Google Editions, the search giant's entry into the e-book market, is in the "final stages," and is set to debut by the end of the year, posing a threat to Apple's new iBookstore, according to a new report.

Google Editions was first announced in May with a slated release for late June or July. After several delays, the e-bookstore should arrive soon, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Google product management director Scott Dougall told the Journal that Google Editions is set to launch in the U.S. by the "end of the month and internationally in the first quarter of next year."

Independent booksellers have received contracts in recent weeks, and several publishers have been exchanging files with Google, indicating the store is close to launch, the report noted.

Google hopes to shakes things up with a more open model than its competitors, namely Apple and Amazon. With Google Editions, users' purchases will be tied to their Google accounts and will be accessible on "most devices with a Web browser." By comparison, Apple's iBooks store is currently only available on the iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch.

Beyond just the tablet and e-reader market, Google hopes to reach "all Internet users" through a revenue sharing program with other websites and booksellers.

"Google is going to turn every Internet space that talks about a book into a place where you can buy that book," Dominique Raccah, publisher and owner of Sourcebooks Inc, told the Journal. "The Google model is going to drive a lot of sales. We think they could get 20% of the e-book market very fast."

For its part, Apple announced in June that it had achieved a 22 percent share of the e-book market by selling more than 5 million digital books in just over two months.

According to the Journal's report, Google has already signed deals with "many major book publishers" and is expected to have hundreds of thousands of titles available for purchase, and "millions more for free" shortly after launch.

The 6-month delay may have cost Google though, as Apple and Amazon have had extra time to solidify their places in the market. A recent survey by Changewave research showed that Apple's iPad is gaining steadily on Amazon's Kindle in the e-reader market. Apple doubled its market share from 16 percent in August to 32 percent in November, while Amazon's share dropped from 62 percent to 47 percent over the same period.

Forrester Research predicts that more than 15 million e-readers and tablets will be sold in 2010, compared to an estimated 2.8 million e-readers in 2009. If the 15 million number is to believed, Apple will take the lion's share of the market, as it had sold over 7 million iPads by the end of September.

However, HarperCollins Publishers CEO Brian Murray thinks Google's lack of an e-reader could give it a "competitive advantage." As more mobile reading devices hit the market, Google Editions could benefit because it will be the "least dependent on specific devices."

On the other hand, Michael Edwards, chief executive of Borders Group Inc.'s bookselling unit, is skeptical about Google's place in the e-book market. "I don't see the advantage in pushing their content, especially since it may be small in terms of total revenue," he said.