Google’s eBook Cloud Still Cloudy

This morning at BEA, Google sponsored a presentation called “How the Digital Book Cloud Works for Publishers and Users,” in which they went into some detail about how their Google Editions eBook retailing platform would work. It still sounds like there are things to be worked out.

Google eBooks, which are expected to come out as early as mid June, will be readable on Web browsers and mobile phones. Like other Google products, the content will be hosted through a cloud computing technology, meaning that they will host the files on their servers. Consumers can buy eBooks while connected to the Internet but can read the files when they are offline through cached pages, similar to working offline in Gmail.

Google’s push for publishers is that they will be able to sell books through Google’s retail network and eventually from their own sites. Google’s push to retailers to partner with them is that they already have the technology in place to distribute eBooks.

After going through a series of slides, book industry people in the room still had many questions. For example, “How will DRM work?” The answer, “Google uses an industry standard Adobe ACS4 DRM tool and publishers can decide to turn it on or off.”

The pressing question in the room, “What’s in it for Google?” aka “What is Google’s take?” garnered a vague answer from the Google spokeswoman. “I can’t share, but I will say that the publisher will make most of the revenue,” followed by, “I can talk to you about it in private, but I can’t talk about it in a public forum.”

Wow! Why is Google so secretive that they cannot talk about pricing or revenue split -two of the biggest topics for the book publishing industry surrounding eBooks? I’ve been following the Google/book publishing relationship for some time now, and this kind of secrecy is not the way to win over publishers, who are already skeptical about the giant Internet company getting into their business.