Photo via Johan Larsson via Flickr CC
Last year we noted that Google is launching their Google Editions, providing books online to readers. When the service launches later this summer, it will boast some 4 million titles of books and magazines right from the get go. While it seems like a big bonus for trees, will having access to all these books online actually equate to a smaller environmental footprint for readers? According to Japan Today, Google has "clinched the support of almost all publishers in the United States" and company officials say that 25,000 authors and publishers have agreed to participate in Google's sales effort to distribute books online. That, combined with providing works with expired copyrights, equates to about 4 million titles.
The problem, though, is that only the "Classics" section offers works that can be downloaded in ePub format to an e-reader. Everything else has to be read in a browser, and apparently there are no plans for converting works to ePub format. As pointed out by PC Magazine, "On the one hand, I can't believe Google can be that out of touch with the e-reading experience. On the other hand, I find it hard to imagine they'll have 4 million books ready to go in ePub (or any other established) format in the next months. Scanning in pages of old books is one thing. Running those scans through OCR software to get a clean digital edition is another. This one is a puzzle, to be sure."
To be sure, reading books on a computer is not pleasant, nor energy efficient. As we explored last year, reading online can be greener than reading in print, to a certain extent; if you're reading the news, it can be greener reading online than in print if you're reading for less than 30 mintues. When you align a computer running on coal-fired electricity with a plastic library card, the difference in carbon footprint of each way of reading is stark.
However, Google Editions is supposedly going to be available on any device that can surf the web. That means computers, laptops, netbooks, the iPad, smart phones and similar devices. But it also means internet-capable e-readers like the Kindle and Nook. So while most of the books can't be downloaded to the device, they can be accessed from the reader and a reader can save their spot in between reading sessions.
It's tough to say just yet exactly how Google Editions will impact our interaction with books, and our energy consumption and carbon footprint regarding our digitization of reading materials. We'll have to wait and see when they launch this summer what the interface looks like, if it is easy to access on any internet-capable device, which devices most people access the service on and their energy consumption, and if it is a reading experience people can get excited about. We already have a healthy debate on if digital books are more pleasant and efficient to read than paper books, so reading on computers instead of energy-sipping e-readers with screens that at least look like paper will open up a whole new range of arguments.
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