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Google's EPUB Embrace Challenges Kindle

Google's backing of the open standard EPUB earlier this week for its one million free, public-domain digital books is accelerating EPUB as the e-reader industry standard. In doing so, analysts say this leaves front-runner Amazon's (NASDAQ: AMZN) Kindle, with its use of proprietary technology, out of the loop.

By adding support for EPUB downloads, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) hopes to make these books more accessible as new e-readers, smartphones, netbooks and other portable devices with small screens that don't readily render image-based PDF versions of the books already scanned by the search giant.

"EPUB is a lightweight text-based digital book format that allows the text to automatically conform (or "reflow") to these smaller screens. And because EPUB is a free, open standard supported by a growing ecosystem of digital reading devices, works you download from Google Books as EPUBs won't be tied to or locked into a particular device. We'll also continue to make available these books in the popular PDF format so you can see images of the pages just as they appear in the printed book," writes Brandon Badger, product manager, at the Google Books blog.

Forrester media services analyst Sarah Rotman Epps believes book publishers will embrace the news. "Google's support of this format lends even more credibility to EPUB as the industry standard for e-books. Book publishers are going to celebrate the emergence of one industry standard, because it means that they don't need to incur the cost of converting their content to multiple proprietary formats in order to work with partners like Sony and Google," Epps told InternetNews.com.

Google's EPUB development comes at a time when Sony makes aggressive strides to take down rival Amazon's pioneering Kindle series of e-readers. Most recently, the electronics giant introduced a viable competitor, the Daily Edition, which sports a 3G wireless connection and a 7-inch touchscreen.

The new, $399 model will be available in December and beats Barnes & Noble and Plastic Logic's entry slated to come out early next year. Sony is also backing EPUB, promising to abandon its proprietary technology and convert its e-book store to the open format by the end of the year.

Such a move would make books on the eBook Store by Sony compatible with multiple devices, whereas rival Amazon's books remain in a proprietary format.

"This is an important move for Google and the overall marketplace because over time there will be multiple mobile devices that will be able to deliver e-books to users. For example, we can read e-books today from Amazon's Kindle on the iPhone but I expect that almost all smart phones and various mobile Internet devices will eventually support this open electronic publishing format," Tim Bajarin, principal analyst at Creative Strategies, told InternetNews.com.

In other digital book news, some tech titans have thrown their weight behind the Internet Archive to derail Google's settlement with authors and publishers concerning its Book Search project.

The settlement at issue is the answer to a class action copyright suit brought against Google by the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers. Under the resolution, Google would create a registry to give authors the chance to say whether or not they want their works to be included in the project.

But the Open Book Alliance, whose members include Amazon, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), argues that that the settlement will create a "digital library controlled by a single company and small group of publishers," leading to restricted access and high prices for schools and libraries to subscribe to the service. Google has refuted these claims.