Publishing Houses Think That Expensive, Fragmented And Limited Book Search Is Better Than Letting Google And Amazon Do It?

from the please-explain dept

Book publishers have been pretty vocal in their dislike for Google’s plan to scan books and make them searchable via a great big electronic card catalog — claiming that this somehow is a misuse of their content. That seems like a stretch, since Google is never making the complete content of the book available (just small snippets) and are basically no different than creating an index (sort of like what they do for the web). It seems quite likely that Google’s service would then help to sell more books by making them easier to find — a claim supported by a few publishers who actually understood the concept and realized that Google’s book search is a good thing. Other publishers haven’t been so quick to figure this out. HarperCollins decided to scan its own damn books, but are doing so with quite a lot of limitations.

Now Random House has announced that it, too, is making excerpts of books available online — but it’s just excerpts and of just a few books. The question, really, is why bother? All these publishers are creating limited, expensive, fragmented searches for books, when Google (and others such as Yahoo and Amazon) are more than willing to do the work for them, while bringing all the offerings together. There are very, very few people in this world who think about books in terms of who published them. No one wants to know that they need to go to a certain place to search for a Random House book and another for a HarperCollins book. Instead, let the search engines do the work (and spend the money), and the search engines will bring in the people and help drive sales. Building separate, fragmented book searches hardly seems like a compelling or cost-effective plan.


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Comments on “Publishing Houses Think That Expensive, Fragmented And Limited Book Search Is Better Than Letting Google And Amazon Do It?”

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30 Comments
Buzz (profile) says:

LOL!

I am so glad you ran this article when you did! Just yesterday I read an article on my Wii News Channel about various publishers opening up their own book search engines. I remember thinking to myself, “Wasn’t Google trying to do this FOR them?” And now, you’re right! There are several crappy, incomplete search engines for books out there. I was actually going to come to Techdirt and submit what I just heard, but you beat me to the chase. Way to stay on top of things.

Somewhere in Google’s site, it says something along the lines of “we pride ourselves on making your visit as short as possible”. Google isn’t about moving huge amounts of information. It’s about FINDING the information you want on the Internet and then going to get it! Meanwhile, stupid people will continue to lose revenue as they resist Google’s efforts to index the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's not about cluelessness

This has nothing to do with being clueless. And it has nothing to do with Google violating their copyright. That’s just their excluse.

They don’t want Google to do this because they know Google will put ads on those pages and make money off it, and they believe that money should be theirs. And even though this may provide more revenue for them, they would rather forgo that revenue if accepting it would mean that Google would also be making money.

It amazes me how businesses, especially content producers, are so consistantly anti-captialistic.

Evostick says:

Old business model - Same as record companies

As soon as electronic paper becomes a commodity, book companies will go the way of the record companies.

Once distribution costs are neglegable all they are are marketeers.

A good way to bring distribution costs down would be to scan the books in and make them available electronically. The first step in creating a search tool.

The search tool reduces publishing houses stronghold, which is the reason they are fighting it.

Thisby says:

Expensive, fragile, limited...IF the search engine

Sorry, but for once I think Techdirt is being clueless–dig a little deeper into what’s going on before posting to this thread.

It is NOT an advantage for us as readers and web users to have Google and other search engines building up competing stockpiles of page images for recent books–read Tim O’Reilly’s post “Book Search Should Work Like Web Search” for a full take on it. (http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2006/12/book_search_sho.html)

Here’s one of his key points: “Book search engines ought to search publishers’ content repositories, rather than trying to create their own repository for works that are already in electronic format. Search engines should be switchboards, not repositories.”

If Random House and HarperCollins want to put stuff online themselves, and have all the search engines come and search it, why is that a bad model?

The real question is when will Google include these results in their Book Search results? When can Google and the others make their Book Searches flexible enough to allow publishers to set up alternate ways of providing content like this?

dorpass says:

Re: Expensive, fragile, limited...IF the search en

If Random House and HarperCollins want to put stuff online themselves, and have all the search engines come and search it, why is that a bad model?

Leave cluelessness behind, did you actually read the article? It is a bad model because it makes you go to all the different search engines of many publishing houses that you don’t even know about it. Of course they get to control it, but what good does it do if no one uses it? You should explain your thinking on how 15 unknown book searches are better than one very well known.

It’s up to the copyright owner to determine how to best monetize content, not up to a third party.

Ok, makes sense, so you are supporting publishing houses’ choice of pursuing the WORST way of monetizing content by making their content difficult to search. Brilliant.

I think apart from book sales, there’s the quote finding function that is often overlooked. If people could look to google to verify a quote then they would never buy a book for that purpose. That to me is a strong argument against fair use.

That’s plain idiotic. If people want to verify a quote they won’t buy a book, they will go to one of the many quotation websites or simply paraphrase to the best of their ability. Are you implying that someone bought Shakespeare’s books to never read anything but line 12 of 2nd act? This is a non-issue.

Lance Mertz says:

Google Search and Full Text

I was looking for information on something very essoteric: the use of cavalry by Wellington and Napoleon at Waterloo. Guess what, found a scanned book from the 1800’s about just that. In fact, it included maps too. Full text information. I read it at my leisure. Now, I could have gotten it through inter-library loan, but there it was, right there for me.

I also searched for another subject the other night, found the book, read the excerpt and have it on my to buy list at Amazon.

It works, increases access and sales. The publishers should realize this.

Overcast says:

If Random House and HarperCollins want to put stuff online themselves, and have all the search engines come and search it, why is that a bad model?

I’m not going to go – from publisher to publisher trying to find a particular book.

Let’s say I want ‘Oliver Twist’.

Do I need to go to 15+ publisher’s sites to find it? Or maybe I just know a particular quote in a book, etc.. Or maybe an author who has published under a variety of companies.

No, lol – it’s like looking for Music – do you to go all the various Recording Studios/Music Marketer’s pages?

Personally, I’m not motivated by a publisher’s profits, nor am I particularly biased towards one publisher. So I really could careless who publishes a book. But I know this much, I’ll google search for it. If I don’t manage to find it, maybe I’ll just search for something else. All depends on how much interest I have in a particular novel.

Venkat (user link) says:

I hate to be the copyright stickler, but google’s actions are not clearly supported by copyright law. It’s up to the copyright owner to determine how to best monetize content, not up to a third party. And making content available to the general public is not necessarily a consideration or a valid consideration.

I think apart from book sales, there’s the quote finding function that is often overlooked. If people could look to google to verify a quote then they would never buy a book for that purpose. That to me is a strong argument against fair use.

Dam says:

Re: Re:


I think apart from book sales, there’s the quote finding function that is often overlooked. If people could look to google to verify a quote then they would never buy a book for that purpose. That to me is a strong argument against fair use.

Much of the the publishing industry is comprised of Luddites. The idea that they would give up control of even a fraction of their content is why the industry is heading down. All of publishing is suffering, regardless of what you hear about big best sellers. The trade side is in serious trouble.

I’d be hard-pressed to believe that finding a quote and potentially using it out of context would have very little impact on sales. Most sales managers would agree that exposing the product to the customer converts them to a buyer.

Carolyn Jewel (profile) says:

Not just snippets

It’s incorrect that Amazon provides only snippets. As of last week authors discovered that in Search Inside the Book it is possible to do a search that returned every page of a 400 page novel. Author Jennifer Ashley discovered this to be the case with one of her Regency-set mysteries (written, I believe, under the name Ashely Gardiner). Those novels are written in first person and searching for “I” returned every page. Search on any common term (he or she, for example) and just about every page gets returned. From what I’ve seen on the author loops (most publishers, including my own, have email loops just for their authors) publishers are telling authors they did not give permission for an electronic version to post anywhere.

It’s not clear to me what the ultimate financial impact might be on authors, but Google and Amazon have both posted books without obtaining permission from the rights holder. Sometimes this is the publisher, sometimes it’s the author. As an author, I just wish this didn’t feel like Amazon and Google saying they don’t care about working with the rights holders or authors, to assess the impact or, in fact, provide only a snippet.

Protector of Logic says:

Re: Not just snippets

Carolyn, use some logic please. Amazon is not Google. Amazon search being broken does not imply Google search is broken. Or do you have a real example of Google enabling you to see a complete copyrighted book like Amazon does? Then don’t lump them together and jump to conclusions about one from the other.

Vincent Clement (profile) says:

Re: Not just snippets

Do you have any examples of Google posting an ENTIRE book without obtaining permission from the rights holder? The overwhelming majority of books posted by Google have a “Limited Preview” which, contrary to what you or your publisher believe, falls under fair use.

As to the ultimate financial impact? Well, when I type in either your name or a title of one of your books, say, A Darker Crimson, I get nothing in Google Books other than a option to search in a library catalog. Some people may just give up and find a book by another author – perhaps they will end up buying one of the books that shows up when your name or book titles is used as a search term. No sale for you. Now, sure, some people may go over to Amazon.com, but why shouldn’t they be able to do that right from Google? Why are old media people so afraid of Google?

Thisby says:

Search engine of your choice is what I'm for

You should explain your thinking on how 15 unknown book searches are better than one very well known.

I’m not suggesting that web users visit 15 different publisher sites to search separately on each for the book they need.

I’m suggesting that users go to Google (or Amazon, or Windows Live Book Search, or any other familiar search engine that they know) and put in their search terms and get (ta da) links that jump them to the content on the publisher sites.

This is how search engines work for everything else online. They crawl external sites and push users to those sites. Why do these search engines want to break that model and store page images themselves if the book is available online at a publisher site?

Only in a world where search engines like Google and Microsoft Live decide to maintain independent competing silos of book images would you ever need to search on more than one search engine for a book. Right now, if you don’t find it in Google Book Search, you think…”hmmm, guess I’ll try Amazon Search-Inside-the-Book….”

If both Amazon and Google would give up storing page images of recent books, and instead point to the place the publisher provides searchable content, then the same content would be available no matter where you searched.

(And, yes, I know so far there’s not a lot available at the Random House and HarperCollins libraries–but they have started, and if search engines would agree to crawl and include the results in their book searches, these publishers would have incentive to put up a whole lot more titles.)

dataGuy says:

Re: Search engine of your choice is what I'm for

I can think of only two ways your idea would work:

1) all publishers would use a common (or very similar) database structure to store their index of the book contents and then allow search engines to query their databases but some how limit this access to just search engines.

or

2) post the entire contains of every book as separate web pages so that the contents could be indexed by the search engines. Which would of course defeat their attempts to not have the whole book available to be read on-line.

dorpass says:

Re: Search engine of your choice is what I'm for

Pssst, we are discussing publishing houses and what they want to do, not your ideas on how to combine their’s and Google’s business models together.

Publishing houses are trying to make sure that Google has no access and control to any piece of information that belongs to them. They want to be the only ones granting access, hence the 15 different unknown book searches. That makes your idea implausible for their intensive purposes. And again, what is the benefit of doing all that work, creating your own databases, upkeeping them and trying to make sure that Google can scour them when they can just sit on their hands and see Google do it ALL for them?

Neal says:

I think you're all wrong

I’ve purchased 200+ non-fiction books this year through Amazon – some new and some used. Seventy five percent of them I purchased based on good to glowing recommendations from users – both on and off Amazon. Of those 200+ books I wouldn’t have purchased at least two-thirds if I’d been able to view every page of the book.

The reason I wouldn’t have purchased them isn’t that I could read and use them without doing so. It’s because I could have identified those books as being, well, garbage. Even if all I’d had were unreadable thumbnails of the page I could have excluded a full third of the books I purchased.

That’s why publishers don’t want their books open to full search. Art book with no color plates, programming examples with no code, step-by-step with no illustrations, 101 tips and none apply to you… they dump that junk on us edition after edition, year after year, all because we can’t find the best book – so we get stuck buying multiple ones.

Their industry revolves around selling us the next new book regardless of whether it’s worth the paper it’s printed on and they can’t risk us discovering a book’s (lack of) worth before we’ve purchased it.

Now if they sold better books or provided more value for the buck they’d gain sales and if you look at the publishers embracing previews and searches you’ll see they are providing one or the other.

Naha says:

However...

While presenting all this as an epic battle between Google and publishers may make sense at first blush, it neglects the simple fact that there are many major publishers who are partners in the Google Books project. Some of these publishers are also suing Google.

So, it is indeed a battle over content control, but Google and the publishers are not necessarily at opposite sides of the pitch.

Michael R. Drew (user link) says:

Book Publishers Need a Wake Up Call

Mike,

Great post. You’ve only scratched the surface of the problem publishers have. As a book marketing expert who has placed 33 straight books on the New York Times best-sellers lists, you would be shocked by the stupidity and inane behavior of publishers in the book book industry.

I responded to your post over at GrokDotCom

Michael R. Drew
Promote A Book Inc

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