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Google Books It to the Finish Line

By Cynthia L. Webb
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, October 8, 2004; 9:35 AM

Google is already viewed by many as the king of search engines, but the newly public company is continuing to launch new services to keep its crown safe from competitors.

This week, the company unveiled a new search tool, Google Print, that searches the text of books online. This step treads on Amazon.com's toes in an example of the tit-for-tat games that Internet heavyweights are playing at a speed reminiscent of the start-up salad days of the '90s. The Wall Street Journal wrote about the trend yesterday, noting that turf wars in the Internet space are hot and heavy. "The Web's biggest companies, seeking new avenues for growth, are invading each other's turf with gusto," the Journal reported. "Google Print is an expansion of an initiative that the company has been testing for several months on a more-modest scale with some publishers. The move pits Google, of Mountain View, Calif., against a similar effort by Amazon.com Inc. called Search Inside the Book, which lets shoppers sample from more than 100,000 books as an enticement to make a purchase."

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"The rivalry between Google and Seattle-based Amazon is just one example of how the barriers between once-discrete markets -- such as Web searching, auctions and retail -- gradually are breaking down. The changes are leading to more spirited competition in a variety of areas, including efforts to transform online outposts from ordinary Web sites into integral pieces of software products created by independent programmers," the Journal also wrote. Bill Gross, chairman of venture capital firm Idealab, told the paper: "Google, Yahoo, Amazon and eBay are on a collision course," Gross said. "They're all stepping into each other's territory, and it's going to lead to interesting battles."
The Wall Street Journal: Google Encroaches On Amazon As Rivalries Grow (Subscription required)

USA Today reminded readers that Amazon plays Google's game too, though Google has a much larger reach. "Google is taking aim at online retailer Amazon.com, which offers similar technology on its e-commerce site and which recently invaded Google's turf by launching a rival search engine, A9. Google reaches a much wider audience than Amazon. Google had 63 million visitors in August to Amazon's 31.1 million, according to measurement firm Nielsen/NetRatings."

The New York Times today reported that Google's publishing tool could not only make waves with Google's Internet rivals, but also in the book publishing arena. "Google announced the introduction of the service at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the industry's most important annual meeting, where publishers, authors and their agents convene to buy and sell the rights to publish books in countries worldwide. The new service would allow users of Google's main search engine to search simultaneously billions of Web pages and the texts of hundreds of thousands of books for information on a given subject. They search works by looking for words or phrases in the scanned digital images of the pages of books that publishers have provided to Google," the paper reported. "For each book found, a user would see several pages of the book with the phrase or subject of the search highlighted. The page would also offer links to several online retailers, where the book could be bought. Publishers do not pay to participate in the program; rather, Google would make money from the service by selling advertising on the search pages, and it would share those revenues with the publishing companies."

More from the article: "At least a dozen companies have already signed up to participate, and executives spoke enthusiastically about the potential it offers them to attract more readers to an industry that has struggled to grow in recent years. ... Other publishing executives were cautiously optimistic, although they raised questions about how Google would ensure the protection of copyrights. Google said copyright was protected because the service does not allow users to print the book pages and allows the viewing of only a few book pages on any given search."
USA Today: Google Feature Offers Pages of Books Online
The New York Times: New Google Service May Strain Old Ties In Bookselling (Registration required)

The Los Angeles Times yesterday explained how Google's book search service is different than Amazon's. "The Google Print service mirrors a year-old offering from Amazon.com Inc. called Search Inside the Book. That feature is ad-free but designed to spur more book sales. Many publishers are wary about letting books loose on the Internet. Some fear that if pages from their books are included in answers to search queries, users will be discouraged from buying the actual books," the newspaper said. "Google is hoping to prevent that by letting publishers limit the number of pages searchers will be able to view to as few as 20%, said Susan Wojcicki, Google's director of product management. And the company doesn't allow users to copy or print book pages. Those restrictions persuaded publisher McGraw-Hill Cos. to upload some of its titles for the new service."

London's the Guardian gave this additional detail on the service: "Publishers choose how much of the text is made available for users to browse through. In the case of The Mountaineers Books company, 16 pages of its Trekking in Ecuador is online. Users are not able to print the pages off. The book can be further interrogated with other key words, allowing users to find out, for instance, if a particular region of Ecuador is included. Links are provided to the appropriate page of various online booksellers including Amazon.com , barnesand-noble.com and in this case directly to the publisher. Google has no financial relationship with any of the book sellers and makes money from advertising carried on the pages of text."
Los Angeles Times: Google Expands Horizons With Books (Registration required)
The Guardian: Google Opens A New Chapter

Dan Ackman, in a positive review of Google Print on Forbes.com, wrote about the implications it could have on the Internet overall. "If this program gets going--whether by Google, Amazon.com or as yet unannounced competitors--it could enhance considerably the value of the Internet," Ackman wrote, suggesting that putting texts of books online on a larger scale could improve the quality of information on the Net. "Google Print has the potential to even the playing field, and more so than Amazon.com, whose main business is selling books, not providing information. If books, even in excerpted form, become widely available on the Internet, that may dramatically improve the quality of information available in the medium as well as the quantity. It will also shift the weight of information away from what is happening this instant, and it will allow access even to texts that were written before the world was invented in 1996," Ackman wrote. "Google has already dramatically improved the Web by allowing for the search and cataloguing of information in a way that makes some kind of sense. It may not be the best sense possible, but it's not bad. If Google or others make libraries available--bringing the old information into the information age--that's an earthquake and a cause for cheer."
Forbes.com: Google Print: The Next Big Thing

Google Unbound

Google also is branching out into text messaging. "Google Inc. on Thursday announced a new test service that allows people to use mobile phones or handheld devices to tap Google's Web search via text messages, or short message service. Called Google SMS, the service is the newly public company's broadest push yet in the mobile market and comes as Google and its rivals in the hotly competitive Web search industry race to expand their reach," Reuters reported. The service "delivers business and residential listings, product prices and dictionary look-up. Mountain View, California-based Google is not taking a percentage of the 5-cent to 10-cent per-message charge levied by mobile carriers, nor will advertisers influence results," Reuters wrote. IDG News Service said the service only works with U.S. wireless carriers.
Reuters: Google Rolls Out Test of Short Message Service
IDG News Service via PC World: Google Sends Out An SMS

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