Earlier today, Google unveiled a new version of its controversial Book Search tool, even as the US government continued its investigation into a deal reached last October between publishers and the Mountain View, Calif.-based tech company. The updated Book Search includes a swath of new features intended to mirror the way we read dead-tree books, from an expanded table of contents to a page-turn button, with accompanying animation.
"Think about how you use a book," Brandon Badger, the Product Manager at Google Books, wrote today on Google's blog. "You want to read it, sure – but there are a host of other ways for you to interact with the words between the covers. You might want to flip through the pages to find an image. You might want to open right up to the table of contents so you can find your favorite chapter. And you might want to pass it along to a friend so they can have a look at it, too."
It's all about the Benjamins
Badger said the search function has been improved, allowing users to get more context from each search term. Other features include a better book overview page and a URL-sharing option. "For readers, this means they can more easily share pages from books you love, while publisher partners can gain even more awareness across the web to promote their books," Badger explained.
Book Search currently makes available only public-domain books, or the titles that Google has negotiated the rights to publish. Still, the improvements to the tool will likely help "position Google Books as the library/book store of choice going forward," David Weir notes over at BNET. There are "multiple potential revenue streams available — advertising, affiliate marketing, keyword search, direct sales, licensing fees, subscription fees, e-reader device sales, and on and on," he wrote.
The keyword here? Awareness. As Badger hints, publishers may not be able to sell their titles through Book Search. But they will be able to promote their brand – and get those all-valuable eyeballs on their products. That's no small thing at a time when the publishing industry is struggling to find purchase.
Of course, first Google has to brush the US government off its shoulder.
Last year, Google and a coalition of book publishers and authors reached a $125 million deal that gave Google exclusive rights to scan millions of books from around the world. But earlier this month, the US Justice Department sent civil investigative demands – formal legal requests similar to subpoenas – to Google, a handful of publishers, the Association of American Publishers, and the Authors Guild. At stake is the deal itself, which has not yet been ratified in court.
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