Updated 11:00 a.m. PDT with additional information.
Google's settlement with authors and publishers remains in limbo, but the company is planning to launch its digital bookstore this summer with titles it is clearly authorized to sell.
Google Editions will offer digital books for sale through its Web site in late June or July, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal quoting Google's Chris Palma, strategic partner development manager for Google Books. The move will open up a new distribution channel for digital-book publishers and give Amazon and Apple a new competitor in the emerging digital-book market.
Google announced plans last year to offer public-domain books for free in the Epub format, and the report did not specify what format it will use for the first-run in-print books it sells through Google Editions.
A Google representative confirmed that the company plans to launch Google Editions in the middle of this year, but declined to be more specific on the timing.
One key difference between Google's approach to digital-book sales and the approaches used by Amazon and Apple is that Google customers will not be able to download books sold through the store: they'll be accessible exclusively through a Web browser. That has some advantages for Google, in that it side-steps messy DRM (digital rights management) questions and allows it to offer the service for any device, rather than having to negotiate deals.
However, it means Google will have to create a mobile version of Google Editions that can support offline reading. It might also change the pricing equation, given that customers wouldn't actually have their own copy of the books they purchase. Google declined to comment on the pricing structure for Google Editions, although Google's Dan Clancy told The New Yorker in April that it would let publishers set the prices for their books.
At the moment, Google is only authorized to sell books for which it has negotiated distribution rights with publishers and public-domain works. If its sweeping settlement with books author and publishing groups is approved, Google will also gain the controversial right to sell out-of-print yet copyright-protected books, sharing that revenue with the rights holders.
That settlement remains in the hands of Judge Denny Chin of New York, who was recently appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Chin is expected to make a decision on the settlement shortly to wrap up outstanding business before taking on the new role.