Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Google the Publisher?

I heard an interesting comment on an NPR podcast the other day. The fact that I was actually listening to an NPR podcast is interesting in and of itself, but lets just talk about the comment.

During a piece about Google’s desire to search book content that originally aired on Day to Day, Xeni Jardin talked about why the Author’s Guild was suing Google.

But toward the end of the piece, during a discussion with host Noah Adams, Jardin said the following:

If the idea behind this lawsuit were extended to the Internet, there wouldn’t be any search engines. What’s the difference between Web pages and books? What is Web page owners could sue Google for indexing their pages?
It threw me. “What’s the difference between Web pages and books?” Would anyone have asked that question a year ago? Two years ago? You can actually break this down to “what’s the difference between a blog and a book?”

Frankly, other than the income potential, I’m not sure. If someone can give me a good definition I’d love to hear it.

But she seemed to throw away the following line and that had me thinking:
If publishers say they want Google to make the whole book available through a print-on-demand program, they can do that… otherwise they only get a preview of what’s inside so they can borrow or buy the book somewhere else.
I can’t find any information about a print on demand program through Google, the only options on the Google Print results pages are for you to purchase the book through the publisher, Amazon or a few other options. So I’m not sure if Jardin was speculating here or of she has information that I can’t find.

But print-on-demand makes complete sense and it actually lines up perfectly with Chris Anderson’s Long Tail concept. Publishers have long hoped to find a way to sell out-of-print books and they’ve launched a few ventures to this end. I'm not sure how successful they were, but my guess is: not much. They relied on local book stores to fulfull orders from people who knew what they want. But how do you know you want a book that's out of print? Chances are, you had heard of the book somewhere, probably by reading it or for some academic purpose (why would marketers waste their time on an out of print book?). On the academic side, you probably will be happy with the library. Otherwise, some searches of a few used book suppliers will do.

But if you combine Google's search capabilities and reach with all the books that have EVER been printed, you may have something interesting.

A few toner-based printing presses placed in regional locations around the country could make it so no book is ever really out-of-print again.

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