Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were greeted by a herd of reporters and photographers as they arrived at a press conference at the Frankfurt Book Fair last week to discuss details of the official launch of the company's Google Print initiative. After nearly one year in test mode, Google Print, which puts book content into the company's databases, went live October 5.
Under the program, which began taking shape last fall, Google scans a book's content into its information archive and the material becomes part of Google's search services. When a user does a Google search, books that contain the search term will show up among the search results. The search term will be highlighted in an excerpt from the book, along with the book's title, author, publisher and the page number.
Users can then do more searching of the book's content, but they can browse only two pages backward and forward from any page where their search term appeared, according to Google's Susan Wojcicki, director, product management. "Lots of limits are in place," Wojcicki said, adding that Google has taken other security measures, such as disabling the copy and paste function, to ensure that a book's content isn't copied illegally. Wojcicki said the inclusion of books in Google's search service "is the logical next step" in adding more offline material to its database.
Other features of the "excerpt page" include links to Amazon.com, BN.com and Booksense allowing users to buy the book. Publishers will also be given two links to their own Web sites that can be used for promotion or to sell the book themselves. The page will also feature ads, and publishers will receive a payment whenever the ad is clicked.
Google executives declined to specify how many titles have been scanned, but the number is believed to top 100,000. The published roster of publisher participants includes Penguin, Hyperion, Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin and a number of university presses. Wojcicki said the list includes only publishers that gave Google permission to use their names and that the Web company is working with most major houses. Random House is the largest publisher not currently participating in the program, but executives at the company met with Google officials at Frankfurt to discuss a possible agreement.
Google is looking for submissions from publishers of all sizes, as long as the books have ISBNs and are written in English. Smaller publishers can sign up online. Wojcicki said last week's launch of Google Print "is only the beginning" of Google's involvement with publishers. She said the company will be meeting with industry members and attending all relevant shows to promote the program.
Hyperion president Bob Miller said the publisher has given Google the same titles Hyperion gave Amazon for its Search Inside the Book program, a list that excludes cookbooks and some reference works. He said his greatest concern is that Hyperion's authors' copyrights are protected from infringement and piracy. But the upside of the program—the potential for hundreds of thousands of people to browse a book—is too tempting to ignore. "It's difficult to get people to browse online, so any service that offers a browsing feature needs to be considered," Miller said. He said Hyperion will "see how the marketplace develops" before adding any more titles to the program.
The press briefing held by Brin and Page lasted about 40 minutes, during which the two answered a range of questions about the program. The booksellers (Amazon.com and BN.com) appearing on the book pages, they said, were chosen because they were the largest retailers, but this would continue to be evaluated. They noted that self-published and out-of-print content would be made available, and they indicated that international expansion remained an option. Periodicals, they said, would not be available at this time because of that format's already complicated levels of electronic distribution.
Generally, Brin and Page stayed on their larger message, referring to "broad" search capability and content; Google's "flexible" strategy of indexing; and a concern about "publisher wishes" on everything from direct sales to artwork display. The two did acknowledge that unlike conventional Web searches, the frequency of a search term or the popularity of a site won't be the only measures of a site's ranking, although they declined to say what the other criteria might be.
Google appeared to hedge its bets on the question of selling direct to consumers. A reporter asked the duo if Google wanted to sell books itself, and Brin answered, with perfect cool: "Whatever mechanisms publishers wish us to support, we will support."