NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Google will begin selling digital books through an online bookstore in the middle of the year, according to a company spokesman.
The launch, which was first reported in The New Yorker last month, means Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) will join a rapidly growing battle for the e-book market. Amazon.com's (AMZN, Fortune 500) Kindle store jumped into an early lead, but Barnes & Noble (BKS, Fortune 500) poses a challenge with its online store for its Nook e-reader, and Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) recently launched the iBookstore for its wildly popular iPad.
Google announced last month that it is partnering with Taiwan's HTC to develop a new tablet computer to rival the iPad, and having its own digital bookstore could help goose Google's tablet sales.
But with its new service, which is to be called Google Editions, Google has its sights set beyond just its own tablet.
Unlike some of its rivals, Google plans to allow its digital books to be read on any device. Amazon.com forces publishers to package books in a special, only-for-Kindle format, so users need to have a Kindle or a Kindle app on a competitor's device to read from their Amazon library. Apple has embraced the so-called Epub industry standard, but its books are locked so they can only be read on Apple devices or through its custom software.
Google Editions, on the other hand, would not let users download books at all; rather, they would only be available exclusively on a Web browser. That could keep licensing fees low, although The New Yorker story reported that Google will let publishers set prices for their books.
Google currently offers many public domain books for free through its Google Books service, and the company announced plans last year to offer those in the Epub standard for e-readers.
The company is currently in the middle of a court battle that would allow Google to distribute millions of out-of-print books. Google reached a settlement with authors and publishers, but some groups oppose parts of the agreement.
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