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Google Print Expands Access to Books with Digitization Offer to All Publishers
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Posted On October 6, 2004


Wondering how Google planned to spend all those lovely new IPO dollars? Well, some of them will apparently go straight into expanding content initiatives that have already begun. Late last December we covered the launch of the Google Print program ("Google Beta Tests Book Search Service," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16555). Today, Oct. 6, Google has announced a major expansion of the program. Instead of limiting the program to digitally formatted extracts and descriptive material contributed by selected publishers, the expanded Google Print program now offers to digitize any and all books contributed by any and all book publishers. The company regards this as "an important step in [its] ongoing efforts to make offline information such as books and other printed matter materials searchable online." Most important for publishers and prospective readers alike, the presentation of bookish search results will appear at the top of result displays, accompanied by links to major online booksellers. Participating publishers will even get a share of the ad revenue Google expects to garner from ads attached to book result displays.

The scanning of print books and addition to Google's search index will cost publishers nothing. Clearly Google will retain ownership of the scanned version of the texts. A representative indicated that the company has no plans at present to share the digitized copies with publishers or any Google partners or affiliates. Publishers and Google users can find more information on the program at http://print.google.com; publishers can sign up online at http://print.google.com/publisher.

Any publisher with an ISBN identification is eligible. Additional information (e.g., tax identification number, payment routes, etc.) may be needed to set up the revenue flow from Google's AdWords program, which attaches contextually relevant and relatively unobtrusive ads to the displays of book content. A current restriction to English-language content should be dropped in 2005 as Google Print expands to foreign language content.

The new expanded Google Print program has dramatically changed the presentation of results. The old program merged retrieved book information into the general, overall display of results. Unless searchers designed search strategies to use the particular syntax to limit retrieval to book information (e.g., "searchterm site:print.google.com inurl:isbn"), the results might not rise to a practical visibility level. Now, whenever a book contains content that matches search terms, Google will display a special box linking to book results. Users can click on the book title to go to a content page that highlights search terms in the text and displays other information about the book. Browsing at that point may include back and forth to a few nearby pages as well as additional topics.

Publishers' interests have been protected, according to Susan Wojcicki, director of product management at Google. The display of digitized results will not allow copying or printing of a page. "It's not like a Word document. It's an image, not text. The goal is to let users see if they would like to read the book and buy it." While Google does not publish a complete list of publishers participating in the program, it already has agreements in place with Penguin, Wiley, Hyperion, Pearson, Taylor & Francis, Cambridge, Chicago, Oxford, Princeton, Scholastic, Springer, Houghton Mifflin, Thomson Delmar, Blackwell, Perseus, and others. According to Wojcicki, publishers may designate how many and which books from their inventories they want digitized.

A clickable link called "Buy the Book" will connect users to four or five options: Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, Booksense.com (the American Booksellers Association's program linking to the inventories of independent bookstores in America), Froogle (Google's shopping-for-anything service), and an optional link to publishers that sell direct. Wojcicki told us that publishers may not designate their favorite outlets, only direct ordering. However, Google also offers to include a link to publisher Web sites on each book display. Publishers will receive special reports and have a Web location for managing their Google Print accounts, e.g., tracking ad earnings and viewing usage information.

Google has just begun to integrate a limited number of books into its database. They have not set the final syntax for reaching books. At press time, I was told "book about shakespeare" should work to reach a sample book result, but, according to Wojcicki, the syntax could change to "book on."

For the immediate future, according to Wojcicki, the expanded Google Print program is focused on digitizing printed books. However, she indicated that it may expand to digital formats of full-text books too. For example, she said Google might like to work with netLibrary's collection of e-books—"anything that would give publishers an opportunity to sell more books and connect our readers and users with books."

One connection with books that could help readers might be to connect them to books stored in nearby library collections. Google already has an ongoing relationship with OCLC's Open WorldCat database of library holdings for popular books. Expanding the online links in book results to all of WorldCat seems a logical route for the company that "does no evil." When I suggested it, Wojcicki said it was something they might consider if users seem interested.

Google Print might hold particular interest for one party—Amazon. The "Search Inside the Book" program at Amazon reportedly includes some 120,000 books. However, Google's willingness to accept any and all contributions from any and all publishers could challenge Amazon's collection in time, particularly as Amazon has dropped many smaller publishers from its operations. On the other hand, Amazon's privileged position as one of the few "Buy the Book" options connected to the new program might placate competitive fears. Or, could Amazon hope to share the digitized data flow in time? At this point, a Google representative indicated the company had no plans in place to license the data to partners, although he did indicate that they usually will work with partners in time, after they have first tested new services on their own properties.

Clearly only time will tell how successful the program will be. As Gary Price of ResourceShelf and Searcher magazine's Webmastery column said, "Maybe I'm getting cynical with the reduction of hair on the top of my head, but, as with all things Google and all things Yahoo!, one has to give 6 to 7 months to see if it succeeds. Nevertheless, this is useful material. I'm particularly watching to see how long it takes to get books from small publishers into the program."


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

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