The technology giant Google has confirmed plans to launch its digital bookstore over the summer, which will bring the group into direct conflict with Amazon and Apple.
Chris Palma, Google's manager for strategic partner development, said that the launch of Google Editions was set for "late June or July" during a round-table discussion on the company's predictions for digital publishing held at Random House.
Company insiders backtracked yesterday, saying a June launch was "hugely optimistic", although it confirmed the service would launch this year.
The Californian company remains locked in talks with some of the world's largest publishers to bring them onboard, but none has publicly committed to the service yet.
The plan is to allow publishers to sell their books over any web-enabled device, from PCs and smartphones to netbooks, e-readers and tablets. The titles would be hosted by Google's servers
A spokeswoman for Google said: "We've consistently maintained that we're committed to helping our partners find more ways to make their books accessible and available for purchase online, and we've been sharing details with our partner publishers for some time now."
Current digital bookstores are predominantly linked to one device, and in some cases exclusively to one company. This includes the Kindle, Amazon's e-reading device, which is tied to the company's digital store. Apple, meanwhile, has set up its iBookstore for the iPad, with customers downloading 1.5 million books in the first month.
A source close to Google said the service would help publishers derive more revenue from their works online, and added the company "believes in an open platform for reading and accessing books".
A link to the Google Editions store is likely to be integrated in to the existing Google Books site. It will also allow retailers to sell the books through their own websites.
Google first announced it would set up Editions last year at the Frankfurt Book Fair, saying it would roll the service out in the US, UK and Europe by the end of June.
Google Editions will only cover books submitted by publishers. The group has, separately, had run-ins with authors and publishers over its scanning of books that are in copyright but out of print. The sides have reached a settlement but are awaiting approval from the US courts.