There are some conflicting stories coming out the BookExpo America today about Google's plans for Google Books: one story speculating that Google may be planning an e-book rental service and another speculating that Google may be closing its e-bookstore.

The shuttering of the e-bookstore was something that Melville House Publishing wrote about today, contending that publishers are finding it difficult to get started in the bookstore and that Google has pulled its developers from the project. When ReadWriteWeb asked Google to comment, the company responded, "We refuse to comment on rumor and speculation," pointing to a blog post from Monday touting some of the successes from the first 6 months of the Google Books program: three million free Google eBooks and 250 independent booksellers selling them, for example.

But more interesting - although difficult to say if more plausible - is the possibility of an e-book rental service.

Talk about this came from a panel at BEA called "Three R's of Google eBooks: Reading, Regions and Retailing." paidContent reports that there may be a fourth R to add to that list: Rentals.

Speaking on the panel, Google Books Director of Product Management Scott Dougall wouldn't confirm that the company would unveil some sort of rental program, "but his tone suggested it's on the way: 'We haven't announced anything like that.' [pause] 'Yet.'" And when ReadWriteWeb reached out to Google for a comment about this rumor, the response was quite different than the one above: "We haven't announced any plans."

Could Rentals Be a Better Way to Complete with Amazon?

As the paidContent story points out, Amazon currently controls about 60% of the e-book market and Barnes & Noble has between 20 to 25%. Apple's iBookstore has about 10%, and Kobo has less than 10%. "That leaves very little room for Google."

But stepping into the e-book rental business might be a new avenue for Google to make inroads into the e-book market. Although consumers can loan (some of) their Kindle and Nook e-books to each other, that's a very different thing than a Netflix-like or a library-like rental system.
Last month, Amazon announced that it would be launching a "Lending Library later this year, giving Kindle owners the ability to check out e-books from their local library.

Could Google get into the e-book rental game? What sorts of deals with publishers would this require? And would users choose to go to Google for this service, rather than some of the other e-book publishers and providers out there?