Will Google Book Search Help Or Hurt Libraries And Book Sales?

The NY Times runs a longish article about Google Book Search, its outlook and some fears surrounding its further development. Book Search was freed from legal entanglements when Google settled a class action suit against it. That opened the door for a range of new services and the expanded scanning of out-of-print and copyrighted material.

According to the NY Times’ article:

Revenue will be generated through advertising sales on pages where previews of scanned books appear, through subscriptions by libraries and others to a database of all the scanned books in Google’s collection, and through sales to consumers of digital access to copyrighted books. Google will take 37 percent of this revenue, leaving 63 percent for publishers and authors.

Fears are expressed in the piece that Google will raise fees to libraries over time. But that issue is addressed directly by David Drummond, Google’s top lawyer, who acknowledges the concern and suggests it won’t happen.

Others quoted in the article express different fears that users will read books in fragments or zero-in on particular passages and not read the books in their entirety:

Some scholars worry that Google users are more likely to search for narrow information than to read at length. “I have to say that I think pedagogically and in terms of the advancement of scholarship, I have a concern that people will be encouraged to use books in this very fragmentary way,” said Alice Prochaska, university librarian at Yale.

There are several responses to all this:

  • Book search will potentially expose people to more books and help expand interest in reading books they otherwise wouldn’t know about (see the Long Tail)
  • Rather than harm sales it may help increase book sales accordingly, as people discover and sample books and determine they want to read them — reading a real book is still better than reading online
  • Book Search is part of a larger trend toward electronic delivery of books (see Kindle sales)

In some sense the music, publishing and movie industries are all going through more or less the same transformation toward online/digital delivery of content. Music has already done it and movies are now making the transition.

The future is unpredictable. Certainly several years ago, nobody could have predicted how the Harry Potter novels would drive book sales to kids, whom experts thought were lost to reading.

Whether Google uses its new power over book distribution for good or ill remains to be seen; the company professes largely idealistic motives. But electronic discovery and distribution of books is ultimately an important development that should be embraced rather than resisted.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Google: Book Search

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • http://www.dbswebsite.com willcmars

    I heard a discussion on NPR recently discussing how sales of books that were completely available online skyrocketed 400%. This was due to several factors: First friends could easily share and recommend books to each other, Second it was easier to make a decision whether or not you liked a book by having it available to read in its entirety, and Lastly people did not want to read an entire book from their computer, which prompted the sales.

    That said I believe that the results are dependent on the type of books we’re talking about. Books that are skimmable for information, such as business guidance books or even self help books could see their sales plummet as their core value can usually be picked up with out a lengthy reading.

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