Amazon to demo Kindle for the Web on Tuesday

Demo is one day after Google announces eBooks; Battle shapes up between two Internet giants

Amazon plans to demonstrate a new version of Kindle for the Web on Tuesday, one day after Google launched its Google eBooks and eBookstore strategy.

An Amazon spokeswoman said via an e-mail to Computerworld late Monday that the new Kindle for the Web will "enable users to read full books in the browser and [enable] any Website to become a bookstore offering Kindle books."

The spokeswoman didn't elaborate, although it was clear the device isn't ready for sale. It could get an official launch at the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, said Allen Weiner, an analyst at research firm Gartner. The Kindle for the Web concept first surfaced about a month ago and seemed like a "natural evolution" of Amazon's e-book strategy, he said.

Weiner said he expects Kindle for the Web to still run on a proprietary Amazon operating system, something that he said Amazon needs to change to be fully competitive with Google's new e-book system.

Google announced Google eBooks and Google eBook store on Monday, giving customers e-book purchasing and browsing access through dozens of devices including, importantly, various Google-backed Android smartphones and tablets. In addition, the e-books can be purchased from Google's eBookstore or independent booksellers.

The open, cloud -based system might look like a sure winner for Google, but analysts noted that Amazon is well-established with years of experience selling e-books. Amazon has also sold millions of proprietary Kindle e-readers, although there is disagreement on the actual figure. Some believe the number is 5 million to 6 million, although Amazon has not said.

Gartner and other analyst firms estimate that Amazon's Kindles make up about half of the market for black-and-white e-readers, not including devices like Apple's iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab . In addition to its Kindles, Amazon supports other platforms for reading its e-books, including Android-based devices, the iPad , the iPhone and the BlackBerry, as well PCs and Macs.

James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester, said that Kindle for the Web "is all the more reason to say that cloud-based reading is not a strong differentiator for Google on the consumer side."

With Amazon's ability to let independent booksellers sell books through Kindle for the Web, as well as Google's similar capability, McQuivey questioned whether an independent seller would be "happier to feather Amazon's nest or Google's nest? Which enemy do you want to strengthen?"

Those independent sellers will face that tough decision between Amazon or Google "if they want to be in business five years from now," McQuivey added.

While Kindles hold half of the black-and-white e-reader market, the more serious question is how many books Amazon has sold through its e-readers. McQuivey said Amazon has about two-thirds of the e-book market. "I don't expect that to really change," he said, even with Google's announcement.

"In the long run, Google eBooks may just convert more people to e-reading who may then go on to buy a Kindle," McQuivey added.

Weiner said Google is a clear threat to Amazon, however, because Google can support many more devices.

Google has talked about supporting the PDF and ePub formats for making its approach more open than Amazon's, although McQuivey dismissed those formats as not all that important.

"EPub doesn't mean anything to most buyers, especially when reading on the Kindle platform feels a lot like reading on the cloud," McQuivey said. The Google vs. Amazon e-book battle is complicated by many other devices and systems, including the iPad, the Galaxy Tab based on Android, and a range of other attractive devices, including a color Nook e-reader from Barnes & Noble, analysts said.

But Weiner said the distinction with Google and Amazon is that both have ownership of enormous e-book ecosystems that go from arrangements with book publishers all the way through systems to convert book and magazine content to digital content. "Both are powerful players," Weiner said. "Whether there's a big battle between Google and Amazon depends on what Amazon does next," Weiner said. "If Amazon is serious about the device space, they are going to have to open up devices ... whether that is based on Windows or Android or something else."

What's more, Weiner said, Google has to "prove to be a worthy competitor to Amazon, which has years with a global footprint, really strong apps on every device and a great brand."

Amazon also has the ability to allow a quick online checkout, which comes from years of experience selling books and other goods online, and is a tool that Google lacks, Weiner said. "Amazon also has a return policy that's amazing with great customer service," he added.

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Matt Hamblen

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