Skip to Content

Google Print targets books

18 October 2004

Google’s recent launch of its Google Print project at the Frankfurt Book FairWorld's largest trade fair for books; held annually mid-October at Frankfurt Trade Fair, Germany; First three days exclusively for trade visitors; general public can attend last two. will transform the way books are used in the Internet age. Going far beyond Amazon’s Search Inside the Book facility, this ambitious scheme may bring books to Internet prominence but it also raises a host of concerns for publishers and authors.

Amazon’s Search Inside the Book is so far available only to American publishers. Typically, it makes the first chapter of the book available for online browsing, with the straightforward intention of encouraging book purchase through Amazon.

The Google Print project has more ambitious plans. In effect it will be a searchable content service for books. As the Bookseller said this week ‘The world’s most popular search engine has swallowed four billion web pages, and is now coming after books. The prospect is both thrilling and frightening for the book industry…’ Google’s plan is to scan millions of books in order to add their content to the Google database. If Google hadn’t already achieved what it has, this might well be considered an insanely ambitious plan.

The way it works is that when you search for books on a topic, you will find links to the books which are relevant to it. Another click brings you to a three-page excerpt, the facility to search its pages and a chance to buy the book. Perhaps surprisingly, the main point of this is not to sell books, but to make money through advertising links on the book search pages. The revenue will be shared with publishers, although the online pages are coy about how much money publishers will make. To prevent people just reading the book online, Google’s plan is to limit the total number of pages viewed by a user to 20% of a book’s content within a 30-day period, and to prevent both cutting and pasting, and copying.

The scheme raises some difficult issues as regards sharing the advertising revenue. Although publishers may try to argue that they should retain the income, or spend it on marketing, authors and their agents are likely to argue that the writers should take a share of it and may press for a 50/50 split. After all, Google Print will make the actual content of books available online and it seems reasonable that authors, as the copyright holders and creators of the material, should share in the income produced.