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Sneaking in ahead of Google Australia’s plans for e-book sales Down Under, Melbourne bookstore chain Readings claims it’s the first independent Aussie bookstore outfit to begin selling e-books online.

Sneaking in ahead of Google Australia’s plans for e-book sales Down Under, Melbourne bookstore chain Readings claims it’s the first independent Aussie bookstore outfit to begin selling e-books online.

(The Borders chain already offers a claimed 2 million e-books, but Readings parently does not regard the chain, owned by RedGroup Retail – which also owns the Angus & Robertson operation – as “independent”).

Readings has set up a Web site, ebooks.readings.com.au, with a limited number of titles available, mostly from small, independent publishers.

MD Mark Rubbo, pictured page 2,  stresses there’s nothing to nothing to install or download, as its e-books work in most Web browsers. “You can read them on any device with a browser, including your iPad, iPhone, Mac and/or PC,” it says. However Windows users will have to install a plug-in for internet Explorer, and Windows Phone users won’t be able to access the books at all.

Those hoping for a cornucopia of Australian titles by authors like Tim Winton, Tom Keneally and Roger McDonald, will probably be disappointed. But there are some recognisabe names among the 38 Aussie fiction titles available, including Jessica Rudd, Murray Bail, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Most prices are in the $15-20 range.

The software involved appears to be an Australian invention called Booki.sh from  Inventive Labs, also Melbourne based.

While bought books remain on Readings’ servers rather than the user’s computer, Rubbo claims use of HTML5 means the books can be cached on a PC, meaning they may be able to be read even if the device is offline.

The bookstore chain has stores in Carlton, Hawthorn, Malvern, St Kilda and Port Melbourne. It is taking on major international e-book projects by the likes of Amazon.com with its Kindle reader, Apple (iBooks), and the Borders chain with its Kobo and Sony devices.

Also looming is the new Google Books, already launched in the US with great flourish and soon to set up in Australia. Google Oz has been attempting to sign both Australian publishers, and independent bookstores – though apparently not Readings – who would sell e-titles online. Google has not announced a start date for its Australian e-book operation.

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