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Google has begun flogging books to US customers with the launch today of the company’s rather flat-sounding ‘Google eBooks’ business.

Last May the company confirmed it would enter the retail digital book biz. An online store dubbed ‘Google Editions’ was expected to follow in July this year. That didn’t materialise, however, and customers were left playing the waiting game.

The Mountain View Chocolate Factory claimed today to have the “largest ebooks collection in the world”, and said it has more than three million titles on its, er, books.

Of those titles, the company said “hundreds of thousands” were available for sale in the US. So Google is presumably offering up lots of data centre storage for books, many of which don’t even have a price tag. All of which leaves us wondering where Google’s revenues will come from in what is a competitive online corner already inhabited by the likes of Amazon.

“We designed Google eBooks to be open. Many devices are compatible with Google eBooks – everything from laptops to netbooks to tablets to smartphones to e-readers,” said the web kingpin.

“With the new Google eBooks Web Reader, you can buy, store and read Google eBooks in the cloud. That means you can access your ebooks like you would messages in Gmail or photos in Picasa – using a free, password-protected Google account with unlimited ebooks storage.”

The company has also dished up free reader apps for Android and Apple devices.

Google has inked deals with bookseller partners Powell’s and Alibris as well as with the American Booksellers Association. But customers can also buy direct from the Google eBookstore, it said.

Interestingly Google, in its announcement, made a big play on the increasingly meaningless – in tech titan parlance at least – words “free” and “open”.

But it will, of course, be hoping to make some money out of the venture, too. ®

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