Why Authors, Agents, and Publishers Should Embrace Google Book Search

Since Google introduced its Book Search program, we have been fielding questions from authors and agents. They are concerned that Google has scanned their books and the results are showing up in Google search. The primary concern is that consumers will not buy books because. Why? Two reasons:

Google Book Search Example

  • Because consumers can read them online
  • Because consumers can copy and paste the content to their computer and then print out the book

In my opinion, both fears are unfounded.

Two weeks ago, we had a representative of Google visit our Nashville campus and present a Google Technology Seminar for about 100 of our publishing and sales staff. I attended as well. The seminar was extremely helpful. It provided an overview of both Google’s philosophy, technology, and future plans.

I came to the meeting skeptical but left convinced that Google has already addressed most of my major concerns. Based on the information Google provided to us—and with thanks to Tod Shuttleworth for his excellent meeting summary—I believe authors, agents, and publishers should embrace Google Book Search rather than fear it:

  1. Google Book Search creates greater book awareness. Google, the most popular search engine by far, helps put books in front of people who might not have thought a book could be an answer to their query. They are, after all, using Google to find something. As authors, agents, and publishers, we believe books are a great place to find an answer. However, if they don’t show up in the Google search results, consumers are will seek their answers elsewhere.
  2. The biggest problem authors face today is obscurity not piracy. With more than 500,000 new books published annually, it is difficult for authors to get noticed. The competition has never been more fierce. In addition, consumers spend four to five times more time on the Internet than they spend reading newspapers or magazines where publishers have traditionally promoted their books. Google Book Search puts these books where people are more likely to find them. They do this with every book, frontlist and backlist, using the book’s most compelling feature: its very own content.
  3. Most people have no desire to read a book on their computer. It’s just too much work. In addition, Google intentionally renders pages at a lower resolution to make them a less-than-optimal reading experience. The resolution is good enough for sampling the content, but it is not good enough for reading more than a few pages. Unlike dedicated e-reader devices, Google Book Search is not optimized for book-length reading. Google’s goal is discovery and sampling not content-delivery.
  4. Google only allows users to preview 20 percent of a book’s content. Consumers can do this—and more—in a traditional bookstore today. Why shouldn’t they be able to do it online? In addition, Google does not allow copying, pasting or printing. Publishers can increase amount of content they make available (up to 100 percent), but they cannot turn on copying, pasting or printing in the basic preview program. However, Google will make this option available via their Google Editions program, but this is only for paid content, once a consumer has actually bought the book.

I am impressed by how responsive Google has been to the concerns of the publishing community. I believe they are going to make it possible for more consumers to discover great new content that they would have otherwise missed. Rather than being something we should fear, Google Book Search is something we should embrace. If we do, I think we will find that our content is suddenly more relevant than ever.

Update: Here are some resources from Google for publishers and authors.

Question: How do you feel about Google Book Search? What concerns do you have that I have not addressed?
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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/joannamuses joanna

    I really like google book search. It is very useful when doing academic research because it turns up a lot of useful book sections that would not show up on a library catalog search because they aren't the main topic of the book. Sometimes I if i only need a short bit of information i can read what i need in google books, otherwise I'll go to the library to look at the book i've found on google books. Google scholar is also a very valuable tool for academic research.
    My recent post Holy Ghost Hokey Pokey

  • http://www.yourchurchistoosmall.com John H. Armstrong

    I am convinced. Thanks. I have a book, out-of-print, that I have debated reprinting without cost to me. Given the fact that I have many books that actively sell now this older book would likely sell some copies anyway. I had feared Google Reader meant "do not consider it." Thanks Michael.

  • http://www.smoochagator.com Smoochagator

    I love Google books! And I agree with you that the main problem facing authors and publishers today is NOT piracy, but obscurity. If I have a chance to sample content online (instead of just at my local bookstore, where undoubtedly I'm not going to find every book published that year or even every book published that year that I would be interested in reading) I'm much more likely to purchase the book because I know I'll read it.

    In a similar way, I think that file-sharing can actually help the music industry. (Not always – but in some circumstances). For example, a friend of mine sent me an electronic copy of a CD that I NEVER would have purchased. I gave it a try, though, because of my friend's recommendation, and I fell in love with the artist – so much so that I bought two tickets to her concert the next time she was in town. Intellectual theft, I'll admit, is a real problem, but the solution isn't necessarily to lock up all artistic content in an ivory tower. Strategic marketing can make use of today's technology to boost an artist's sales.

    And for what it's worth, I can't imagine ever reading exclusively on the computer or even an e-Book reader. I just like the feel of "real" books too much.
    My recent post Emily the Blogger

  • http://kendalprivette.blogspot.com/ Kendal

    As a first-time, unknown author, I’m pleased with Google Booksearch. Breakin ginto this business is brutal….

  • http://cypressmedia.net/training/class/7/writing_technical_documents Catherine Hibbard

    I wholeheartedly agree with your second point, "The biggest problem authors face today is obscurity, not piracy." I find one of the most daunting challenges for authors is marketing and promotion and how much of both it takes to increase book sales.

  • http://www.bigfishministries.com/kristine Kristine McGuire

    My book, Escaping the Cauldron, is listed on Google Book Search. I like being able to give my readers a sneak peak at the book. I admit to being concerned but once I learned that only 20% of my book would be viewable I was on board with the idea. My only complaint is no matter how hard we've tried the cover for the book never loaded. So other than one minor glitch I'm very happy with it.
    My recent post Transforming Power

  • http://sarahsandifer.blogspot.com/ Sarah Sandifer

    This is yet another piece of evidence for me that all of this technological change entering the book world is actually for our benefit, not our destruction. The Google Book Search sounds great and that it does actually help promote authors. It is becoming more and more obvious that we, as the publishing community, can no longer fight these changes because they are going to happen. It is possible to embrace this change and recognize that it is all actually a good thing.
    My recent post Hurry up and wait

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/pamelamilesllc PamelaM

    All good points (well, maybe not so much #3 – I'll let you know when I check out the iPad). Publishers/authors/everyone would benefit from getting behind Google Book Search as opposed to clutching content!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Michael, thank you for reviewing this service. As a self published author, services like this are very helpful to get the word out. I have to say that it is a tad scary clicking the link to make your hard work available online. I had the same feeling when I signed up for "Search Inside" from Amazon. Once you click the link, there really is no going back. On Amazon, it can take a long time to have your book removed from the program.

    When I signed up for the Amazon service, I didn't realize they made the whole book searchable. I just thought they made the first few pages available. But if you search for a keyword, it will show you excerpts from all of the pages in the book. This can be a problem for authors that have a lot of fluff and a point that is revealed later in the book. I've read a lot of books like this… especially diet books. Just tell me what the secret is. If those pages are revealed, a reader may not be so inclined to buy the book.

    The other concern is that programs like Adobe Acrobat offer built in Optical Character Recognition. Just do a print screen of the Google book page, paste the page in Acrobat, click the OCR button, and you have the full text available. Most people will not have this program, but it is a worry.

    Overall, I think the positives outweigh the negatives for most authors. Given your example above, I did a book review of Max Lucado's new book Fearless. I read through enough of the book, that I definitely want to buy it. But as an author I would feel a lot better if I was able to limit the excerpt to 10% or less.
    My recent post You Gotta See This!

  • http://twitter.com/MarkYoungBooks @MarkYoungBooks

    Thanks for sharing this, Mike. Sound like another great tool to help authors emerge from obscurity.
    My recent post Mark Mynheir

  • http://www.lindseynobles.com Lindsey Nobles

    I found this and the Google seminar so helpful. Too often we find ourselves scared of the unknown. Not knowing who or what exactly to fear as technology shifts the world of publishing. I too left the Google seminar thinking that their Book Search could be a huge asset to us.
    My recent post Miscellaneous Thoughts from Thirty Thousand Feet

  • http://twitter.com/davidteems @davidteems

    Thanks for the information, particularly the intentional lower res for reading. Incredibly helpful. For a researcher Google Books has full length books (public domain) as well—histories, biographies, real hard to find quirky stuff. These are usually downloadable as text or pdf. Like a History of Scotland written in the 1860s and things like that. How are the books entered into their catalogue?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Honestly, I am not sure how the books get in the catalog. I don’t keep up with the operations at that level. I will have to check. Thanks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Michael, thank you for reviewing this service. As a self published author, services like this are very helpful to get the word out. I have to say that it is a tad scary clicking the link to make your hard work available online. I had the same feeling when I signed up for "Search Inside" from Amazon. Once you click the link, there really is no going back. On Amazon, it can take a long time to have your book removed from the program.

    When I signed up for the Amazon service, I didn't realize they made the whole book searchable. I just thought they made the first few pages available. But if you search for a keyword, it will show you excerpts from all of the pages in the book. This can be a problem for authors that have a lot of fluff and a point that is revealed later in the book. I've read a lot of books like this… especially diet books. Just tell me what the secret is. If those pages are revealed, a reader may not be so inclined to buy the book.

    The other concern is that programs like Adobe Acrobat offer built in Optical Character Recognition. Just do a print screen of the Google book page, paste the page in Acrobat, click the OCR button, and you have the full text available. Most people will not have this program, but it is a worry.

    Overall, I think the positives outweigh the negatives for most authors. Given your example above, I did a book review of Max Lucado's new book Fearless. I read through enough of the book, that I definitely want to buy it. But as an author I would feel a lot better if I was able to limit the excerpt to 10% or less.
    My recent post You Gotta See This!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Michael, thank you for reviewing this service. As a self published author, services like this are very helpful to get the word out. I have to say that it is a tad scary clicking the link to make your hard work available online. I had the same feeling when I signed up for "Search Inside" from Amazon. Once you click the link, there really is no going back. On Amazon, it can take a long time to have your book removed from the program.

    When I signed up for the Amazon service, I didn't realize they made the whole book searchable. I just thought they made the first few pages available. But if you search for a keyword, it will show you excerpts from all of the pages in the book. This can be a problem for authors that have a lot of fluff and a point that is revealed later in the book. I've read a lot of books like this… especially diet books. Just tell me what the secret is. If those pages are revealed, a reader may not be so inclined to buy the book.

    The other concern is that programs like Adobe Acrobat offer built in Optical Character Recognition. Just do a print screen of the Google book page, paste the page in Acrobat, click the OCR button, and you have the full text available. Most people will not have this program, but it is a worry.

    Overall, I think the positives outweigh the negatives for most authors. Given your example above, I did a book review of Max Lucado's new book Fearless. I read through enough of the book, that I definitely want to buy it. But as an author I would feel a lot better if I was able to limit the excerpt to 10% or less.
    My recent post You Gotta See This!

  • http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com Women Living Well

    Oh MY Word! I did not know this “book search” existed! I just hopped over there and did some searches! Too fun! First I searched “Crush It” and there was no preview. Bummer! Then I searched Beth Moore’s newest book “So Long Insecurity” and there it was 229 pages of it! Amazing! I’m so excited! I have housework and homeschooling to do but as soon as the kids are in bed you know where to find me – on Book Search!
    Thanks!
    Courtney
    http://www.womenlivingwell-courtney.blogspot.com

  • Mary Pielenz Hampton

    I've heard some of these defenses before and was inclined to believe them until recently.

    A couple weeks ago I was doing some research for a book I'm working on and I learned that the very obscure location I was researching was featured as a chapter in a book. I intended to check my local store for the book or order it online. But as I continued looking for internet resources, lo and behold the entire chapter appeared in my search.

    I don't really need to buy that book any more. I only wanted the information from one chapter anyway. But, as an author who hopes the same wouldn't be done to my books, I may purchase it anyway.

    As with so many of Google's recent undertakings, I think they need to adopt an "opt in" mindset rather than "opt out." Of course they come up with logical sounding justifications for these kinds of universal actions. But Google's reality–and even the publishers–is somewhat different than mine as an author.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Most people buy books for more than a chapter. If all they want is a chapter, then they can go to their local bookstore or library. The opportunity here is that by sampling a useful chapter, they might actually buy the book. Google’s data also make clear that, as a general rule, the more of a book a user sees, the more likely they are to buy it. Thanks.

  • http://aldenswan.com Alden Swan

    Despite my concerns about Google someday taking over the world, I have to say that I really appreciate Google Book Search, as a consumer. If anything, it alerts me to books that I wouldn't necessarily have found otherwise, and makes it easier to quote from them.

    And, I have to agree with Google's points; I am not inclined to read an entire book online, and I seldom read the entirety of what Google shows me. I compare it to going to the library; authors/publishers should have the same concerns there. How many books are not purchased because they can be found in the library for free?
    My recent post Hunter on the Conflict Between Science and Religion

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

    Michael, thank you for reviewing this service. As a self published author, services like this are very helpful to get the word out. I have to say that it is a tad scary clicking the link to make your hard work available online. I had the same feeling when I signed up for "Search Inside" from Amazon. Once you click the link, there really is no going back. On Amazon, it can take a long time to have your book removed from the program.

    When I signed up for the Amazon service, I didn't realize they made the whole book searchable. I just thought they made the first few pages available. But if you search for a keyword, it will show you excerpts from all of the pages in the book. This can be a problem for authors that have a lot of fluff and a point that is revealed later in the book. I've read a lot of books like this… especially diet books. Just tell me what the secret is. If those pages are revealed, a reader may not be so inclined to buy the book.

    The other concern is that programs like Adobe Acrobat offer built in Optical Character Recognition. Just do a print screen of the Google book page, paste the page in Acrobat, click the OCR button, and you have the full text available. Most people will not have this program, but it is a worry.

    Overall, I think the positives outweigh the negatives for most authors. Given your example above, I did a book review of Max Lucado's new book Fearless. I read through enough of the book, that I definitely want to buy it. But as an author I would feel a lot better if I was able to limit the excerpt to 10% or less.
    My recent post You Gotta See This!

    • Mary Pielenz Hampton

      This is one area where I think Amazon has Google beat. I love the "search inside" feature. The quality of the images gives a much better feel of the book. The excerpts available are enough to pique a reader's interest, but not so much there's no need to read further. If Google's service came closer to "Search Inside," I'd be more supportive.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/success2you John Richardson

        I agree with you, Mary. If Google gave publishers a few more options I think the service would be more popular. Having 20% of a book online will certainly not work for a lot of writers.

  • http://www.beaconlit.com Julie H. Ferguson

    As an author whose publisher has put my nonfiction books on Google, there is no question that I sell more copies, thanks to the exposure. Totally agree that authors should fear obscurity not piracy.

  • chris

    I like the idea of google book search. Taking into account the number of book purchases online via vendors like amazon and borders, it makes it easy to find a book with the type of material I need, and then place my order.
    My concern is about author content control. For example, google books is "20%" of the book. Are those random pages? Give the authors the option of "the first two chapters" or "chapter 12." or let the authors pick the pages they want exposed. maybe they do this already. Just a thought.
    My recent post How to Recruit Volunteers

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Anderson

    As someone doing research on a book, I LOVE Google Books, largely because it has often saved me the trouble of scanning the books I am reading myself. This is particularly helpful when I want to capture large-paragraph sections to store and index. Unfortunately, scanner pens simply aren't that good, and having the book on Google to copy/paste from saves me the trouble of scanning it myself.

    Plus, I have found whole chapters on Google Books, read them, and then realized that I wanted to read the whole book. So it benefits a lot of authors who aren't repetitive, but actually build arguments and offer substance, at least in my experience.

  • http://twitter.com/jamiepohlman @jamiepohlman

    On your second point, you note that the biggest problem authors face is obscurity, not piracy. I agree. However, even piracy may not be a bad thing. Well, you can change it from a negative to a positive. If your book is being pirated, it is attracting attention and it is in demand, at least with certain people.

    Instead of focusing on stopping the piracy (which is bringing your book attention), focus on what you can do to make the book available to those who want it. Maybe it's changing the format (audiobook, digital book, vook, paperback, what have you). Maybe it's changing the price. Maybe instead of worrying about the book product at all, you can create content based on the book (podcasts, vlogs, blogs, etc.) that will bring in some profit or drive those interested in your book to purchase it. People pirate books, video games, music because they cannot get the product in the form or at the price that they want. Listen to the consumer, their wants, their needs. Profits will follow.

  • http://robert.epictales.org Robert Treskillard

    Thanks, Mike for passing on this information.

    "The biggest problem authors face today is obscurity not piracy" <– so true.

  • Bianca Juarez

    Thanks for your recommendations! I LOVE every one of them.
    My recent post servant and slave of all…

  • http://www.in2grace.com Brett Glover

    As an author I saw wisdom in these arguments but after giving it a go I found Google did not guard my wishes. They were meant to have no more than 20% of the book live, but after two weeks Google put 100% of my book online. Until they provide security and protect my copy rights I shall not use this service. Be careful authors!

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com Dennis

    Thanks for this post. As someone who is just starting out it is good to have a source for information like this from the publishing world.
    My recent post Half Empty?

  • http://fireandhammer.blogspot.com Dennis

    Thanks for this post. As someone who is just starting out it is good to have a source for information like this from the publishing world.
    My recent post Half Empty?

  • http://www.justinsadvice.com/ Justin

    I like Google book search too. I definitely agree with you that it's a great way for the author to get more exposure, but there's no risk of people just printing out the whole book so its cool.

    Almost everyone I know hates getting on the computer for long periods of time after they leave work, so they aren't going to read a book on their computer- they'll learn about it online, then go out and buy it.
    My recent post Effective Workplace Communication Tips- Why Most of Us Suck at Relationships in the Office

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/miller_schloss Becky Miller

    I love Google book search. I have used it to do person-to-person marketing of books I love. For example, I've been emailing or Google chatting with several different friends and thought of passages from Don Miller's "Million Miles." I was able to find them in Google book search while sitting at my laptop instead of having to get out of my chair, hunt down my copy of the book, and type in the excerpt. (Or maybe that's just lazy?) Then I tell them, "This book is AMAZING, you have to read it."

  • Lakendra

    Wow, thank you, Michael. I had no idea this tool existed. After reading your post, I immediately went to Google Book Search to look up my own book, "In His Time," which I originally self-published. I have done some revisions and plan (with the help of your fiction proposal guide) to submit the novel to publishers.

    I have to admit, after seeing that my book's contents were available for anyone to read online, my gut reaction was trepidation. But since Google Book Search leaves out entire sections of the book, I understand that what this tool does is provide browsers with a taste but not the full meal, which I like. I also liked that reviews of my book were listed.

    Now that I'm aware, I plan to use Google Book Search as a reference/referral guide for my own personal use and for my book(s).

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  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/brazilnut72 Andrew Comings

    I think the most important point you make is this one: "The biggest problem authors face today is obscurity not piracy." I was giving a talk to a group of fellow-missionaries this mornign about self-publishing technology. One question that came up was how "protected" the author was from copyright infringement. I wish I had possessed the presence of mind to answer with that phrase.
    My recent post The Missionary and Social Media

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/brazilnut72 Andrew Comings

    I think the most important point you make is this one: "The biggest problem authors face today is obscurity not piracy." I was giving a talk to a group of fellow-missionaries this mornign about self-publishing technology. One question that came up was how "protected" the author was from copyright infringement. I wish I had possessed the presence of mind to answer with that phrase.
    My recent post The Missionary and Social Media

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  • http://blog.rlcopple.com R. L. Copple

    I've heard the obscurity/piracy comment before, and agree with it. You didn't address the other comment, though. Those who worry that someone can print the book from Google.

    Think about it folks. Do you know how expensive it would be to print someone's book on my computer, buying all the paper and ink? You could use up most of a $30 ink cartridge alone, not to mention the time and unprofessional results you're likely to end up with. How much more convenient and cheaper to just go buy the book from the store?

    It doesn't matter if Google shows the whole book. No one is going to want to print the whole thing if they have half a brain. They'll buy the book if they want it on paper. And all the data I've read/heard is when free ebooks are made available, in most all cases paperback/hardback book sales go up, not down. Google books is a win-win for authors and publishers, not to mention the readers.

  • Julie

    I'm still a little nervous about Google having all that content online.

    Julie
    Cool Springs

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