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Google Beta Tests Book Search Service
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Posted On December 22, 2003


"Google's mission is to provide access to all the world's information and make it universally useful and accessible. It turns out that not all the world's information is already on the Internet, so ..." Such conservative goal setting has now led the world's busiest search engine to a new set of content—books in print. Publishers cooperating with Google provide descriptive material on a set of books to create a database hosted on Google. At present, results appear within general Web searches, though expert Google searchers can restrict searching to only Google Print records. Three online book sellers—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-a-Million—have quick linking set up between title results and their own inventories. Content only includes excerpts from books, e.g., synopses, introductions, author biographic notes, or other "dust jacket" material. At present, the program reportedly covers some 6,000 titles, but Google representatives expect it to grow rapidly.

Currently the Google Print service is open to qualified publishers, authors, and agents, though conversations with Google staff clearly indicated the focus lay on deals with publishers rather than any other players. Current participants include Dell, Knopf, Random House, etc. The company will not disclose all the names of publishers involved. Google encourages parties interested in joining the program to complete a contact form, which stipulates that applicants must hold the rights for a substantial amount of the content under consideration.

Maintaining its aura of purity, Google assures users that the links to the three booksellers "are not paid for by those sites, nor does Google benefit if you make a purchase from one of these retailers." However, the assurances do not extend to indefinitely exempting publishers or other advertisers from charges for the AdWords ads connected to results through Google's AdSense program.

Gary Price, Webmaster of The Resourceshelf.com, announced details on the service Dec. 17, 2003, (http://digbig.com/3hyn and http://digbig.com/3jax). Price's coverage included "Publishers Lunch" material based on interviews with a number of publishers whom Google had approached. The experts predicted that Google may plan to launch a registered user and even a pay-per-view service in the near future. Google representatives would only say that they were not announcing a pay-per-view at this time, though they did indicate that the new service might involve some second-party registrations in the future. Google already allows for such access in the case of The New York Times in Google News. Though Google spiders Times articles, when users click on a nytimes.com item, they go directly to the article only if they have already registered at that site; if not, the click will direct them to a registration page. This type of arrangement might also be offered as an option for Google Print publishers, according to a Google spokesperson.

Clearly, Google has only begun to moisten its toes in this endeavor. In contrast, Amazon's new "Search Inside the Book" feature accesses the cover-to-cover content of 120,000 books from close to 200 publishers producing over 33 million pages. Amazon also offers users up to 20 percent of book content. The excerpted information currently covered by Google has always been included in the descriptive material an Amazon user sees for a title.

If you are interested in testing the new Google Print service, you can search for author, title, and extract information by preceding your search terms with "print.google.com," e.g., print.google.com Bulfinch's Mythology. For lists of entries from specific publishers, enter the "publishername site:print.google.com," e.g., Random House site:print.google.com.

Chris Sherman, publisher of the estimable SearchDay (http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday), noted in his Dec. 17, 2003, issue that the shortness of the excerpts, when treated by Google's ranking algorithms, sinks most Google Print results far down the results postings. He tested several books known to be included in the program, searching with bibliographic information, and found that Google Print usually failed to return results in the top 100. Google does identify Google Print results with a "Book-Beta" tag preceding each listing.

On the other hand, there is one major advantage to merging Google Print results into overall Web postings. One can see related material available for free, which can—in the case of older books, like Bulfinch's Mythology—include locating public domain digital copies for downloading. Even with more current material, authors may have published material on the Web that can supplement or even replace a book purchase.

The problem of short bibliographic records failing to make "page-one" in result lists remains a problem that Google wrestles with, not only for Google Print sources, but also for the OCLC WorldCat 2 million record subset still on the way. (See: "OCLC Project Opens WorldCat Records to Google," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16592.) According to Susan Wojcicki, Google's director of product management, this is part of what the company is looking at throughout the beta test—"how to do the best for users." Wojcicki indicated that Google Print would not come out of beta until Google had identified and made the changes needed to serve users best.

One alternative would be to put such records into a sub-domain, adding another tab to the spare Google home page. One called "Library" comes to mind. When I asked Chip Nilges, director of OCLC WorldCat Services' Cooperative Discovery Services, if OCLC had ever discussed such options with Google, he sighed and said, "No, we haven't discussed that yet, but it's a conversation we'd be glad to have."


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

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