October 7, 2004

News & Opinion: More on Google Print

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 6:17 PM – Filed under: Publishing Industry

Here are two reports on Google's Google Print announcement at the Frankfurt Book Fair. I normally don't do this, but I am going to quote the entire passages. In this case, the reporters are in Frankfurt, both of these reports have slightly different takes, and I don't think you will find this anywhere else. The first is from Publisher's Weekly daily email. This is written by Steven Zeitchik:
Officials wearing flashing pins led reporters to the Google press room at Frankfurt today, where hundreds of flashbulbs awaited Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page-- all too announce a launch that, more than a year in coming, could hardly be said to have happened in a flash.
After the initial photographer frenzy, the pair sat for more than 40 minutes, answering questions patiently (if at times glibly) about Google Print. When it was all over there were some questions answered, a few unanswered, and a couple more that were simply unanswerable.
Page and Brin did fill in some of the program's details: The book results would appear after a user entered a search term on the company's home page. No more than three Book rankings would go above the regular Web results, all of them labeled as such. Also, the initial link takes you to a separate book page which features a scanned (and thus uncopy-able) image of the book. They also said that the booksellers appearing on the book pages were pretty much chosen because they were the largest but this would continue to be evaluated. Self-published and out-of-print content would be made available, they said, international expansion remained an option and periodicals were out-of-play for the moment because of the format's already-complicated levels of electronic distribution.
Generally, they stayed on their larger message, repeating such terms as "broad" (referring to search and content); "flexible" (in their larger strategy of indexing the unindexed) and "publisher wishes" (on everything from direct sales to artwork display).
A big acknowledgment from the company did come when they said that, unlike the Web, the frequency of a search term or popularity of a site among searchers won't be the only measures of a site's rankings, as they are among many Web-page searches, though they declined to say what the other criteria might be. The nature of the criteria is a big point when you consider that the very foundation of book publishing and editing--unlike its corollary on the Web--is to assume, and draw, distinctions on the basis of taste, quality and other intangibles instead of the popularity and repetition which drives Web searches. So will these search results be weighted by publisher? By author? Or some new algorithm whose effectiveness has yet to be tested on print material, in a wholly different area from where Google has proven its chops?
Google also was circumspect about the kind of reaction and material it's been getting in the more than a year since the program first came to light, declining to quantify publisher or title counts. When we asked Brin and Page whether they were satisfied with the level of publisher participation and available content thus far, Page hesitated for a second, then said that "{There's} a lot in product and a lot in process," and then added only that "publishers have been very excited." Some reports of skittishness about nonfiction have continued to filter our way in Frankfurt, but one veteran of the digital battles at NY houses noted that it was clear from the hire of former Randomite Adam Smith, who spoke at the conference, and fellow Google employee Amanda Kimmel, also a Random House e-veteran, that the company has gone to some length to court and reassure book publishers.
Random House, in fact, is the highest profile publisher not signed on with Google. But RH spokesperson Stuart Applebaum confirmed that Brin and Page met with the company to discuss their inclusion in Google Print as well as what sources said are some of RH's concerns about the program. Applebaum said the talks remain "ongoing."
The moment of Google's greatest hedging came on the question of direct-selling (apparently it's more than publishers who've learned the trick), when a reporter asked the duo if they'd ever consider it and Brin answered with perfect cool, "Whatever mechanisms publishers wish us to support, we will support." Which kind of passes off the question back to the group who'd been passing it off to begin with.

The second report is from Publisher's Lunch daily email:
Like visiting dignitaries from the sovereign nation of Silicon Valley, Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin did Frankfurt today. There were individual meetings with publishing executives, a press conference (where we scored Google t-shirts), blinking Google lapel pins, a cocktail party on the floor, and last-minute invitations issued to many top executives for a private dinner (most of whom were already booked, of course).
To update our account from yesterday, Google officials continue to indicate that all of the big six publishers are signed on (whether or not they have supplied books for scanning yet is a separate issue), Random House says they are still discussing certain terms. Harper CEO Jane Friedman calls the initiative "fantastic" and sees it as "win-win" for everyone involved. At least one other big six CEO remains reluctant to discuss it on the record at all, pointing to the hornet's nest of subtle questions and challenges from a variety of affected constituencies.
Harper, for one, is still discussing how to treat ad revenue generated (if there is any). One idea discussed there and elsewhere is to put any proceeds back into marketing of the books, at least up to a certain threshold. A couple of large participating publishers didn't expect to share the revenue at all, but once engaged in conversation began to think about dedicating any funds to marketing. (Publishers can choose to not receive money below a certain threshold, and can not accept advertising at all as well.) By one account, the majority of publishers who have discussed the issue with Google so far expect to split any meaningful proceeds with authors. But it's early days for issues like this, too.
Random's Richard Sarnoff suggests that a primary long-term issue for publishers is carefully monitoring how much a given book can be read online at the whole variety of search sites--now Amazon and Google, but perhaps Yahoo and others as books make their way online more and more. (For their part, the founders said, "We do not [see it as a rival to Amazon]. Amazon is a good partner of ours." Plus, "The last time I checked, we don't have any warehouses.") Currently, Google is requiring publishers to allow the viewing of at least 20 percent of a book.
There were few new details at the press conference, as Page and Brin emphasized, "What you're seeing here today is really just the tip of the iceberg in what we plan to offer." They are "slowly ramping up" the display of titles in their database over the next few weeks, so search results could vary from day to day. Once the company catches up on the backlog in their pipeline, they hope to be able to display books online within two weeks after receiving them.
For the moment, Google is courting submissions from publishers, even if they are single-title publishers. The company expects to welcome submissions from authors (including self-published and out of print books) in the future, but is not ready for this yet.