It’s not ready yet, as you can see, but here is some interesting pre-event info. If it flies, could be interesting!
Google, In Print
I finally have something concrete to share regarding Google’s efforts-in-progress to present book-derived content through their own interface. A Google spokesperson confirms that the feature, presented through a sub-domain prefixed as print.google.com (akin to news.google.com), first became live within their index at the beginning of this month–though the “front door” to that URL doesn’t work yet. In the company’s own words, “It turns out that not all the world’s information is already on the Internet, so Google has been experimenting with a number of publishers to test their content online. During this trial, publishers’ content is hosted by Google and is ranked in our search results according to the same technology we use to evaluate websites.”
What you can see right now is just a shadow of the larger business model that’s being presented to publishers, and a Google representative has no hesitation in saying the company’s mission includes getting as much information into their index possible – and books represent a huge, most untapped frontier.
Currently, the interface seems to present standardized, short book excerpts from at least about 6,000 different works. Each excerpt is designed in a similar manner, and includes prominent links to buy the book at Amazon, BN.com and Books-A-Million. At least during the current test period, the bookseller links are not paid placements, and Google does not get any affiliate commission; similarly, though the pages carry “AdWords” advertisements, those are being run for free at the moment.
At least some excerpts also include metadata elements, like review blurbs, biographical notes, and flap copy. In its current form, each excerpt has a fixed URL that includes the ISBN number–and therefore, just searching the ISBN through Google will lead right to the page.
Of course there are idiosyncracies to the reliance on ISBNs that will need refinement, since it’s all about having the right ISBN. Oddly, many of the excerpts that appear now cite copyright lines from Canadian houses (including over 1,000 from McLelland & Stewart, and numerous extracts from Canadian Random House imprints). Therefore, the “buy this book” links often lead to editions unavailable through the participating retailers. The same problem exists for excerpts that are based on backlist hardcover editions, and don’t include the current paperback ISBNs. (Betas are for fixing things.)
The site indicates that the program is currently open to “qualified publishers, authors, and agents” and “you should be the rights holder for a substantial amount of content for which you’d like to increase distribution.” An online form is provided for those wishing to participate. A Google spokesperson did indicate that the program will be open to publishers of any size, including self-publishers, with the goal of being as comprehensive as possible.
Currently, Random House appears to be among the most substantively represented so far, with at least 2,500 excerpts posted. Excerpts from a variety of houses are included, though, among them Harper (197), Warner (29), Free Press (590), Scribner (210), Hyperion (96), Farrar Straus (242), Holt (157), Harcourt (114) Harlequin (872), and Harvard University Press.
But as we contacted publishers this morning, most were unaware of the beta links, and unable to indicate if their companies were participating through explicit agreement. Simon & Schuster’s Adam Rothberg indicated that it looked as if Google had “crawled our site” to gather the material. Many other publishers confirmed that the current excerpts were derived from material already posted widely on the web, while indicating that Google has held conversations with them about more formal arrangements for months.
Adam Smith, who was a key player in Random House’s electronic publishing efforts, left the company last week to take a job at Google. Though Smith isn’t confirming details of his position, it’s been known that Google had been searching for someone to oversee their efforts to produce a book/print material search and indexing mechanism; one common presumption is that this is Smith’s charge, though we could not confirm anything about his new job.
The bigger news is the larger business plan Google is apparently aiming towards, as confirmed by multiple publishers who have spoken with Google. As implied though not made explicit in our conversation with a Google spokesperson, the goal seems to be to truly “Google” book content, or as much as they can get their hands on. The company is talking to publishers about officially launching in the first or second quarter of next year. In the first phase, publishers have been told that registered visitors would be able to access up to 10 percent of the full text of a book within a month. (This figure was reportedly arrived at so as to be more moderate than Amazon’s initially controversial 20 percent ceiling.) Longer term, Google is describing what one person called a “dashboard” that would let publishers control precisely how much text would be accessible, up to full text.
Not only is Google providing links to multiple online retailers, but they are also offering publishers a revenue share arrangement, that’s roughly equivalent to a 50/50 share of any AdWords revenue from a publisher’s content. From early impressions, Google is telling publishers they are very flexible about customizing the pages–so that publishers can link back to their own sites, sell directly, influence the branding of the pages, and more.
Most publishers appear to still be in the conversation stages, though we heard widespread enthusiasm from multiple houses.
Google is very excited about the potential, and publishers are sounding that way, too. In a one sales presentation, a Google representative is said to have indicated they are already showing an almost 5 percent click-through rate to seller sites on the short excerpts posted so far. HarperCollins’ David Steinberger confirmed that the house has “met with Google” and said that, “Obviously, they’d be an exciting partner.” He sees their proposal as “A real positive for authors” and a great way of “enabling books that are less well-known and less-extensively marketed to be found,” an ever-more important goal in an otherwise hit-driven culture. Another publisher expressed it this way: “I’m glad to see this because whatever Amazon does it’s going to make them improve it.”
Just to round out the story, a few days ago, the site PaidContent.org hinted that Google’s “print” ambitions extend well past books, citing a source indicating that “Google may be thinking of expanding this to offline magazines and newsletters as well” and “is surveying the field with an online focus group among media executives.” In this scenario, users would pay to access the full text of articles found during a search. Certainly the sub-domain they’ve designated implies an intention to incorporate all kinds of “print” materials.
The story will keep emerging, but at least now there are the beginnings of details where previously there have been just rumors of meetings. We may have more comment from a Google spokesperson later , which we’ll post if warranted. As standard policy, Google does not comment on future plans, and those details reported here are based solely on our conversations with publishers. More tomorrow if further details emerge-or at least with a round-up of other news organizations that lift our story without credit.
One link to see sample search results
Another link to see sample search results