Why Publishers Should Embrace Google Books

5131980180_385dbf7732_bJoe Wikert has recently espoused an idea well-known in certain book industry circles, that obscurity (and the challenges with being discovered) is the greater threat to authors and publishers.

Yesterday he published a post arguing that publishers should embrace (rather than fight) Google Books:

When I meet with publishers I always ask them about the biggest problems they face in today’s market. One of the most popular answers is “discoverability.” Most publishers fret about getting lost in a sea of other books and promotional campaigns.


That’s why I’m scratching my head about all the negative publisher and author reaction to the recent federal appeals court ruling on Google Books. If you’re not familiar with Google Books, it’s an extension of the search engine enabling discovery and sampling of digitized books. Many of those books are still protected by copyright, hence the delicate nature of the case.


Publishers, wake up and realize that the largest search engine on the planet offers a powerful way for your content to be discovered and purchased. Rather than getting all litigious about this, why not embrace it and find a way to fully leverage it?

The simple truth is that as technology evolves, the notion of “fair use” is also evolving. I think this is a very good thing, and not just for Google. History is littered with marketplace incumbents who crashed and burned as they tried to protect yesterday’s model. Tomorrow’s publishing leaders will be the ones who take advantage of services like Google Books, not those trying to make it go away in a courtroom.

He's not the first to make this point about discovery; Eric Flint raised a similar issue as far back as December 2000, when he was touting free ebooks as a way to sell more books, and many authors (including Neil Gaiman) have said that they see piracy as helpful because it lets readers discover and try new authors without risk or expense.

And there are even publishers who see Google Books as a solution to the discovery problem, and are voluntarily participating in Google Books.

I know that Google Books is frequently described as a book scanning project, but there's more to it than that. There's also a lesser known second part to the project where authors and publishers can choose to upload their works so they can be indexed in Google's search engine.

If you've ever come across a digitally perfect book in Google Books, that was probably a book which was uploaded by the copyright holder who had figured out that the books you can't find are the books you can't buy.

And that, in a nutshell, is the value of Google Books. It makes otherwise obscure works discoverable, and it does so at no cost to the author. It's free advertising, and you can't get a better deal than that.

image by Johan Larsson


About Nate Hoffelder (11481 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

2 Comments on Why Publishers Should Embrace Google Books

  1. Anon Wikipedia Editor // 4 November, 2015 at 7:21 am // Reply

    I do a lot of editing on Wikipedia, and I believe there are also quite a few indirect benefits to having the works in Google Books as well.

    It makes it very easy to:

    – Quote
    – Double-check a quote/reference to make sure it is correct
    – For others to read the referenced material
    – See the relevant Copyright/Authors/Translators/Other important metadata from a book
    – Grab correct ISBN information
    – Compare different Editions of a book

    As an example, someone may have referenced Page 123 of “Obscure Non-Fiction Book”. I may be editing a Wikipedia article, and want to read the surrounding pages (Pages 122-124) to see what if I may be able to glean more information. Google Books makes this very easy.

    I may be updating and expanding the References section of an article. I want to double-check that the information in the Citation is correct. A given chapter may be written by a different author, or there may be more translators for the book than the cover states, or I want to grab more detailed copyright information (which City/State the book was published). Google Books makes this very easy.

    Someone who has inserted extensive quotes from “Obscure Non-Fiction Book” on Wikipedia may have made an error or typo. Being able to read the surrounding passages is extremely helpful in this case. Or I want to make sure that the page numbers are correctly referenced.

    Sometimes a person can insert conflicting information in his Citation. Maybe he said he used the 2nd Edition, but he gave the ISBN for the 1st Edition. Now I don’t know if it was a simple mistake, or if it is deeper (maybe all of the page numbers are wrong, or the wording may be completely different between Editions). Having all the Editions on Google Books makes this very easy to look for myself.

    With the book being fully indexed and available in Google Books, this makes many of these editing jobs possible within minutes (or at least hours). This is INFINITELY faster than trying to do similar work via the very slow library system—that is IF you are even going to get access to many of these books/journals.

    Long story short, more references to a book on Wikipedia, leads to more visibility, which may also indirectly lead to more sales. Reference in Wikipedia article = higher in search engines, people who are interested in that topic may purchase a copy, they may contact the author, it may lead to more scholarship in that field (more books to sell), […].

    I believe the publishers just fear the word “may” purchase. They are most likely just stuck on the idea of how are they going to make the money if someone can read it for free?

    As a slight tangent. AUTHORS would also greatly benefit from this. While they may not get direct sales, they can make more money on tangentially-related goods (Book Signings, Speeches/Lectures, Webinars, […]).

  2. Yep, most university presses I’m familiar with are just fine with Google Book Search and have routinely submitted their books there for years. There’s enough shown to tell you whether the book will be useful to you, and generally not enough to substitute browsing the GBS version for going to your library or Amazon or local bookstore.

    I can see publishers wanting to keep certain reference books (some genealogical record collections, dictionaries, etc.) out of Google Book Search, where finding something on the snippet view really does mean that you no longer need to buy the book. But that’s a small percentage of books. Browsing a novel, if it’s any good, won’t be a substitute for buying the whole book. Reading ten non-consecutive pages of a scholarly argument won’t be a substitute for going to the university’s library and checking it out.

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