As Amazon tries to become more like Google, the search engine has been doing something perhaps almost as notable: trying to become more like Amazon. For the past few months, Google has been courting publishers, trying to convince them to turn over book content that could be used in Google's database, said people close to the discussions.
But it is unlikely that the content will be provided in excerpted passages to customers, as it is on Amazon. Instead, the material would go into a database that Google spiders would comb when a search is conducted, turning up relevant links. If a user clicks through, he or she would be sent to a separate page that contains a book abstract and the opportunity to buy the title.
According to sources, Google has been pursuing this as an additional source of ad revenue—and pitching it as a sales opportunity for publishers. If the initiative succeeds, it could dramatically shift the online starting point for many customers from specialty and bookseller sites to the large, catch-all search engine.
Google declined to specify its plans, saying only that it has had some contact with the book industry. "We're talking to a few publishers and are always looking to add more content that will make the search more useful for customers," said the firm's Cathy Gordon. But according to a report from one publisher, Google said it has reached agreements that allow it to enter as many as 60,000 titles in its database and also presented extensive mockups showing publishers how book-relevant searches will look.
The company's conversations have thus far centered on large publishers, with one such publisher saying he felt the company was "still a few months away" from any official launch. Publishers who spoke privately said they generally thought it was a good idea. "I don't think they'll run into some of the problems that Amazon did," said one.
Google has maintained that its goal of increasing search effectiveness puts it in a very different position from a commerce site like Amazon.