Are Italian publishers still diffident when it comes to Internet Book Search?


This was the question posed to Santiago de la Mora, Google’s European Partnerships Lead, Books, at Editech 2008: Editoria e innovazione tecnologica, Milan, 27 June 2008.

In the article that follows, I’ve attempted to paraphrase Santiago’s presentation of Google’s Book Search based on notes I took during the session. Santiago started by noting his agenda would cover 5 points. As the slide set is not currently available and I couldn’t see it very well from my side seat, I’ve added a few screen shots in an attempt to better illustrate Santiago’s presentation. I’ve also inserted a few personal comments, indicated with italics.

1. Challenges and opportunities on the Internet

With about 1 billion users today in Internet, every publisher needs an Internet strategy. 2007 e-commerce sales are estimated at $420 billion globally (I’m not sure of the source, but US only e-commerce sales were at $136.4 billion1). As mentioned previously, books are the number one product sold on the net2, totaling $180 billion3.

The main challenge for a publisher is getting the right book in front of the right person

(why does this remind me of Philip Kotler’s 4p’s: product, price, place and promotion?4).

The Internet makes the long tail viable. Amazon.com is a key example in the publishing world; Rhapsody (music), Netflix (film) and others also make full use of extensive catalogs. Don’t leave money on table. It is no longer difficult to promote the full catalog, the Internet provides a level playing field for both main and niche titles. There is a reduction of the importance of best sellers with an increased emphasis on niche books. The result is a cumulative increase in both revenues and profits. Publishers need to follow their readers. Readers are spending more time online. Publishers need to be there, they need to influence them. Purchasing decisions are being made on line, even for books bought off-line. Currently there is a gap in online ad spending relative to time spent online.

2. Google’s mission and the role of book search

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Google needs to be comprehensive in both the number of languages and document formats it makes accessible. Google’s role is that of a bridge, a conduit between content creators, their users and with advertisers who want to reach those same users.

Google is the starting point. The more content which is available, the more difficult it is to navigate, to organize. This is the reason gain importance.

In the case of finding books on Google, there are two types of queries. The first is navigational. The user knows what they are looking for, for example “dan brown da vinci code”. The second, and most common, is an informational type of query. The query asks for a person or specifies a place reference. This full text search is really powerful.

3. Google Book Search: Partner Program for publishers

Over 20,000 publishers worldwide currently participate as partners in Google Book Search.

An early reticence has disappeared; more than one million books are currently indexed.

Google is expanding Book Search’s reach: more languages, more books from existing partners, adding new partners. Partners are stating publicly that the system is working.

Google Book Search is undergoing an international expansion: more than 100 languages are now indexed (the Google Books Advanced Search Form lists 42 of them: Arabic, Armenian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese – time to update the form!).

The majority of books have been viewed and clicked on with the intention to buy. Publishers are surprised that their back list is getting attention. Users’ personal preferences manifest when they have full choice. We will find the right book we’re looking for, rather then settling for what is available in a physical space. Full text search uncovers sources where you many least expect them. This is much different than the typical metadata (i.e. title, author, description) search. The more pages a user sees (engagement), the more likely they are to buy. This is no different from the experience in a traditional book shop. A limited viewing ability, such as the default 20%, is available for books indexed through the partner program. Publishers can experiment, allowing up to 100% of a book to be viewed for one, many or all of their books. It’s the publisher’s choice.

Even if the entire book is available online, users will still buy the book as the online resolution is purposely too low to facilitate more than brief consultation.

Google Book Search is composed of two projects: library and partner. The Library project is for “truly forgotten books” (In Europe the Library Project complements the Partner Program by indexing books in the public domain).

4. Universal search

Google’s Universal Search (also called blended search by SEO professionals) is a move back from vertical, or specialized, search. Many people performing a search don’t know they are looking for information contained in a book.

Google has several ways of showing books in search results. Type a book title and author, it will appear as a blended result. (In reality, this doesn’t seem to happen very often, even performing English language searches on Google.com. I do see results for Project Gutenberg, which seems to confirm that Google is an honest information broker.). Type “Sherlock Holmes” and a book search link appears to refine the search limiting to books.

Google Universal Search
Illustration 1: Google Universal Search, a.k.a. Blended Search, with a rare result from Google Book Search.

Google offers partners the possibility to place a dedicated book search form on their home page. User searches will have the full power of Google book search, limited to the publisher’s catalog. Some search boxes on the W. W. Norton site use this feature (interesting though, that this publisher doesn’t seem to allow book previews; I understand that only books with preview ability will appear in co-branded search in the near future).

Cobranded Google Book Search Results
Illustration 2: Example of Cobranded Google Book Search Results: A search for the author Irvine Welsh from the W.W. Norton website

(Update: In a follow-up discussion, Santiago provided examples of the latest implementations of co-branded search, which follow.)

In Italy, Apogeo has basic Google Book search as an option on their home page. A search for Internet Books produces a nice listing from their catalog, limited to books with previews.

Houghton Mifflin has a “Google Preview” button which takes the user to a co-branded book detail page in Google Book Search.

Even more interesting is an example from Stanford University Press (SUP) which integrates Google Book Search previews into a book’s detail page on the SUP website. As an example, see “How Revolutionary Was the Digital Revolution?“.

Consider the search within a book feature, with rigor mortis as an example. Search implementation is easier; as simple as an automated link. This reduces in house technological needs – again, the Internet can provide a level playing field, big publishers don’t have an advantage over small publishing houses.

Each book detail page is divided into one or more tabs. The “about this book” tab contains at least summery information (similar to the classic card catalog entry) on the book. Some books will contain optional sections when appropriate such as related books, other editions or a map of places mentioned in book. The goal is to get as much information in front of the reader. In many cases there will also be a “preview this book” tab (I found The Great Gatsby: Complete and Unabridged to contain a rich set of information, including a map of mentioned places).

Book display in Google Books
Illustration 3: Book display in Google Books with a map of geographic locations mentioned in the book. Note also the contextual advertising (AdWords) at the bottom of the screen.

5. Monetization

A publisher’s presence in Google Book Search offers serendipitous marketing opportunities – just think of the impact of Paris Hilton carrying “The Power of Now” when she came out of jail. It had an immediate impact on traffic. Some months later, the author of the book, Eckhart Tolle, attended the Oprah Winfrey show to promote his new book, A New Earth. Subsequently traffic for “the Power of Now” went up again significantly. Rather than a traditional select and sell approach, just create books and let the user make their selection.

For books in the Publisher Partner program, Google Book Search lists places to buy a title online. First the publisher; then online retailers. There may be a map for an offline bookshop (in the Great Gatsby example, I see “Borrow this book”, a link to WorldCat to find a local lending library – I suspect bookshops will show up based on your IP address). Google may run contextual ads on book detail page. Book search’s primary purpose is to promote books and improve search quality; direct monetization is not a top priority since we benefit in other ways. A book’s publisher shares in AdWords revenue generated by their books.

Partner center reports can be mapped to a publisher’s internal . For example, Springer found that 20% of clicks are on titles which are at least 15 years old. Google also has other tools, such as Google Trends, which can be used to monitor topics, authors and/or titles. Google Analytics can be used to monitor click through traffic to your company site. Google is a data company at heart – a publisher can use this data to improve business results.

Partner feedback confirms Google Book Search to be free global marketing, marketing which is measurable.

Personal reflections

As Santiago acknowledged, not all in the publishing industry have welcomed Google’s Book Search project (sometimes referenced by the earlier name, Google Print). The resistance is rather interesting when seen in a historical perspective. It is an event from the publishing world which is often used to describe the disruptive effects the Internet has had on commerce in general: the advent of the Gutenberg printing press. Google itself discusses Gutenberg and the change Google Book Search is bringing to publishing.

From my perspective, Google fulfills an important cultural void by allowing us to find information we couldn’t otherwise find. To recover the extensive investment in scanning, indexing and operating the book search retrieval system, Google needs a revenue stream. Thus the Google AdWords text ads next to book search results and on some book detail pages.

Some publishers are so focused on the idea that Google will earn ad revenues from displaying text snippets of a publisher’s books, they aren’t able to see that, in reality, Google is creating a free promotion platform for a publisher’s entire current and back catalog – all for the price of exposing a snippet. A promotional platform which is a potential gold mine as long as the publisher understands how to fully exploit it. As a Search Marketing Professional, I find this misunderstanding very unfortunate.

Google Book Search in Italy

Several well known Italian publishing houses are actively participating in Ricerca Libri, the Italian version of Google Book Search. I found Marco Massarotto‘s excellent book, Internet PR, published by Apogeo Editore. I also found an interesting book on Michelangelo, published by Giunti. All is not yet perfect. The book is in English, even though I used the advanced search feature to limit my search to books in Italian. As with English language searches, few Italian books appear in general search results (Google’s Universal Search). A search for the quintessential Italian classic “i promessi sposi alessandro manzoni” does not trigger a book search result, nor does a search for Marco’s book Internet PR. I do see very relevant results, just no books from Book Search (Google is a very dynamic company – what you see may be very different when you read this). To be fair, Google has to be careful with blended results. Too many results from other Google properties would have many people crying foul play. To a certain extent, this is already happening. Youtube videos show up in search results all the time, but when was the last time you saw a video from another video portal?

Oh Microsoft, if you are so committed to search, why did you abandon Live Book Search?

To the best of my knowledge, Google is the sole player in Book Search, which isn’t really Google’s fault (Santiago confirmed, in an email exchange, that publishers don’t need to sign exclusivity agreements). Microsoft also had a book search program until recently. The program was launched officially with a December 2006 live book search announcement. In May 2008 Microsoft unfortunately decided to terminate the program, just a year and a half later. It appears that someone decided to focus just on the most lucrative search verticals as is indicated on their publisher.live.com home page:

our strategy (will be) to focus on verticals with high commercial intent, such as travel

With this, Microsoft announced the end of their Live Book Search and Live Search Academic programs. Too bad. Rather than competing with Google in all areas of Internet search, it appears that Microsoft is trying to cherry pick the best parts while complaining that Google has a monopoly. There are times when Microsoft people wonder why they have such a terrible reputation in so many quarters. This is just another example of why: Microsoft says one thing but does another. Abandoning Live Book Search severely detracts from Microsoft’s credibility as a committed player in the search market. It also highlights a significant difference between Google and Microsoft: Google’s management is willing to make significant, medium to long term investments in broad areas of information collection, storage and retrieval. While the closure of Live Book Search is short sited on Microsoft’s part, what is worse is that Google will remain without a valid competitor. This cannot be good for anyone, not even Google.

Google’s Editech slides availability

Slides from Editech speaker presentations are available in the download area of the Editech 2008 web site. One notable exception, at least at the time of this writing, is the absence of the Google slides. Google’s PR department has to approve slide distribution, even if they have already been presented in public. I hope Santiago is able to work through this problem, as Google’s mission, accessible information, should apply to Google itself.

Are you a publisher?

If you’re a publisher and you want an independent third party view on how to best make Google’s book search work for you, contact me.


1 http://www.census.gov/mrts/www/data/html/07Q4.html
2 Online, http://www.nielsen.com/media/2008/pr_080128b.html
3 A quick check in Google did not reveal the source of this number
4 I recently attended a Kotler presentation in Milan, “Il Marketing del 3° millennio. Riflessioni con Philip Kotler”, 17 June 2008, organized by the MIP Politecnico di Milano School of Management

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About Sean Carlos

Sean Carlos is a digital marketing consultant & teacher, assisting companies with their Search (SEO + SEA = SEM), Social Media & Digital Media Analytics strategies. Sean first worked with text indexing in 1990 in a project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since then he worked for Hewlett-Packard Consulting and later as IT Manager of a real estate website before founding Antezeta in 2006. Sean is an official instructor of the Digital Analytics Association and collaborates with the Bocconi University. He is Chairman of the SMX Search and Social Media Conference, 12 & 13 November in Milan. He is also a co-author of the Treccani encyclopedic dictionary of computer science, ICT & digital media. Born in Providence, RI, USA, Sean received Honors in Physics from Bates College, Maine. He speaks English, Italian and German.