Dave Winer doesn’t like Google Print. In fact, lately he doesn’t like Google much at all:
When I watch them aggressively push the toolbar, in distribution deals with Sun (for example) I wish they would just die, because I so detest how they’re exploiting the web.
But Dave correctly points out that the card analogy most people use to describe Google Print is a poor one. A card catalog only contains information about the book, and not the contents.
But that is just a technology limitation. We couldn’t include the entire book contents in the card catalog, even if the card catalog is electronic. Yet even when I seemingly have the appropriate book according to the card catalog in the library, I still look in the book (if it is available) to see if it has what I need. If it isn’t available then I’ve wasted a trip to the library, and I’m all the more frustrated if my local bookstore doesn’t carry the book for me to check there.
The other day I bought two books from Amazon on wireless technology. I spent about $275, but I ended up returning one of the books. Why? Because it just didn’t have the detail I needed, though the contents and index certainly suggested it would. Had I been able to search to contents of the books I might have chosen a different book entirely. And a lot of the content of the books is already available on the web, but I wanted the books for reference purposes.
The ability to search for what I want in a book will just allow me to purchase books more effectively. It will help me in the research I do, and it might help sell more books. But I think it is really about better ways to find information. Especially for out-of-print books or books that my local bookstore does not carry. Isn’t that the long tail? Books with niche audiences and no marketing; books that I would never know about.
Eric Schmidt wrote about the mission of Google Print:
That’s the heart of the Google Print mission. Imagine the cultural impact of putting tens of millions of previously inaccessible volumes into one vast index, every word of which is searchable by anyone, rich and poor, urban and rural, First World and Third, en toute langue — and all, of course, entirely for free. How many users will find, and then buy, books they never could have discovered any other way? How many out-of-print and backlist titles will find new and renewed sales life? How many future authors will make a living through their words solely because the Internet has made it so much easier for a scattered audience to find them? This egalitarianism of information dispersal is precisely what the Web is best at; precisely what leads to powerful new business models for the creative community; precisely what copyright law is ultimately intended to support; and, together with our partners, precisely what we hope, and expect, to accomplish with Google Print.
What would have happened 10 years ago if the owners of web content had to opt in for search engines to work? The web would be a pretty lonely place if you couldn’t find anything. Search engines, and not just Google, made a business out of advertising sales by pointing people to information they were looking for – from the full content of every page.
One could argue the semantics, but as long as they are not giving away the book content, how is this different?
Much like record companies, is this a case of an industry trying to protect an outdated business model? There is at least one author who feels differently. iTunes is a bad comparison here as well because it is a store – it wants to provide the product as well. Google just wants to find what you want and send you to it.