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Googling into academia

6 December 2004

The launch of Google Scholar was bound to bring the Internet giant into conflict with publishers who are fighting off the open access threat to their business (see Open access, the way of the future? and Google Print targets books in previous News Review columns). The new project will give users access to a giant database of research material, research material which use of the open access model would make free to all at the point of access. Google argue that its new search engine will help and encourage students and academics to source the books through libraries, online retailers or direct from publishers. In the UK a recent government pronouncement has backed the publishers who charge for access to databases of material on a subscription basis.

Google's database will come from scholarly articles, journals and books, submitted by the publishers themselves, and by academics and societies, so they are dependant on getting the suppliers of this material to work with them. Those using their service will be able to read the full text of articles if they hold a subscription to the relevant journal, or if it has been published in open access journals.

Although initially hostile to Google Scholar, the giant academic publisher Reed Elsevier is now talking about working with it in one or two areas. The company owns paid-for search engine Lexis-Nexis, which gathers news from 32,000 sources and had sales of £1.25 billion last year. With its income increasingly derived from sales of subscriptions to its large range of online journals, Reed Elsevier, not surprisingly, feels that it has to defend the concept of paid-for access. It seems inevitable that the two parties' different views of the world will continue to keep them on an ultimate collision course.