Over the last few years, the greatest new source of online web content is the book. Digitization projects, led by the epic Google Book Search (http://books.google.com) project, have merged the content of millions of both in-copyright and out-of-copyright books. But getting hold of the in-copyright books—or even reprints of public domain books supplied from the publisher partner side of Google Book Search—usually involves reaching out for a print copy, whether purchased from a publisher or bookseller or borrowed from a library. The new Preview Wizard (http://code.google.com/apis/books) from Google installs a set of customizable software tools embedding book information from the Google Book Search Index. Any website, such as those from publishers, retailers, authors, libraries, reader social networks, etc., can link to displays of the same Google Preview information on books as would be seen from a direct search of Google Book Search. In the case of public domain books from the library partner side of Google Book Search, this also means a link to downloadable full-text copies.
How does it work? Users search the sites for a book. When they retrieve a page, they may see the Google Preview. Behind the scenes, a dynamic API races off to Google Book Search and pulls up the Preview, editing the display according to rules set by the implementer at the original website. For example, the usual Preview display at Google Book Search includes acquisition options linking to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, Abebooks, and other online booksellers; many publisher websites; and, in some cases, the OCLC Worldcat.org Find in a Library feature. If the original site is itself a purchase source, they might choose to eliminate some or all of those options. According to Erik Arnold, director of Adhere Solutions, Inc., Google’s machines do all the running and work very quickly.
The basic Preview information lets you view a display of the book cover art in most cases, read the bibliographic citation, browse up to 20% of publisher partner books, including words surrounding search terms, and zoom in and out on a page. The collection of tools include the Embedded Viewer API to get Preview in place; Data API for full-text searches and user-generated content; smart links to Google Book Search; linking using standard identifiers, etc. For a view of how the service works in practice, try the following pages:
Reader Social Networks
Of course, some of these sites already have images, descriptions, or reviews of their books in place. It remains to be seen whether they will choose to switch to Google Previews for their displays, which would usually add browsing capabilities.
According to Turvey, the "primary value" of this new service is to "help publisher partners extend their own abilities to help people find books." The publisher partner side of Google Book Search content now includes "well [more than 1] million titles in [more than] 40 languages and [more than] 70 domains." The project currently has "over 20,000 publisher partners and it keeps getting bigger," says Turvey. He explained that the new service represents a way for publishers to avoid the costs of building their own book syndication marketing services. For booksellers, it eliminates the prospect of adding multiple syndications by centralizing to one source. Clearly, for Google, it provides more incentive for holdout publishers to come onboard and for existing publisher partners to send more books their way. This is just the beginning for the service. Turvey says that they "will be adding more sophisticated technology as we go, adding more new and different features to extend value." Google also expects users to develop their own improvements for the open source APIs.
One concern that might not be as happy about the prospect of Google Preview proliferation is the world’s largest bookstore, Amazon, which offers a similar service on its own site called "Search Inside the Book." Turvey points out, however, that "Amazon does not syndicate that service. Although it is very similar, there are considerable differences. We open ours to anyone." He also added that, "although users have the option of leaving off the ‘buy links,’ so far most are leaving them in." Library partners using the new service can restrict it to patrons, though, Turvey says, of course they would prefer it being open. Some of Google Book Search’s library partners might have a very good reason to keep it wide open. The University of Michigan will launch a print-on-demand service using On Demand Books’ Espresso Book Machine next week that taps into the digitized, out-of-copyright books in their collection, primarily supplied by Google. [For more details on this project, look for a future Infotoday.com NewsBreak.]
As always when dealing with new actions by the 600-pound gorilla, aka Google, doomsday scenarios for "competitors" emerge. Could this be the beginning of "Google-zon"? Steve Arnold of ArnoldIT.com considers it unlikely—at this time. He points to the budding relationship between the two companies as illustrated in Amazon being named as the preferred source for music supplied to Google’s new G1 phone. However, the only missing element from today’s Google Book Search is the ability to supply copies of in-copyright digital books, as it does with out-of-copyright books. All it would need for such a service would be the permission of the copyright holders. Can you see the flame of Kindle flickering?