Friday, November 14, 2008

Google's Digital Book Jigsaw

First we had Amazon’s Search Inside, then the explosion of widgets in every shape, colour and format. Now we have the mobile phone application. Being able to search discover and qualify, or ‘browse before you buy’ is clearly here. So where is it going and who are the potential winners and the also ran’s? As with any venture, who pays and what is the return on the investment? Finally, are we now seeing the blurring of digital content and digital context (the metadata that helps you qualify and value content)?

Google has announced an Android search tool called the Barcode Scanner that recognises through the phone’s camera a book's barcode. According to Jeff Breidenbach, Engineer, Google Book Search, "it will automatically zoom, focus and scan the ISBN - without you even needing to click the shutter...You'll then have the option to search the full text of the book on Google Book Search right away"

There are limitations on the bar codes being post the mid 90s and of course the books being in Google Book Search. But then what? Some would argue that you already have the book in your hand so why do you need Book Search? Others may point out that the next question is that of price and availability and although you may have it in your hand would you transfer the sale to someone else if it where cheaper and delivered to your home? Some say that it provides additional digital services to explore external links, reviews, and perform keyword searches.

The arguments are immaterial, what is important is that the technology to link a mobile camera application, a bar code and Google Book Search is now a given. Why Google developed it and what they intend to do with it is subjective, the fact is they have.

Will there now be an iPhone, Blackberry or Symbian follower and will they link to Google or some other repository? It’s almost certain. Is it an application for librarys, retailers or consumers, remains unclear. The questions to ask are what can be achieved through this mobile linkage, where is the value and its potential within the Google world.

Publishers Weekly report that Borders has also stepped into the Google contexural world and have enabled Google Preview on their site. Borders joins Books-A-Million and the Blackwell Bookshop in using the service. The enhanced version of the Preview software enables the retailer to offer Google Preview to books they stock and that are within Google whilst effectively locking them into the retailer’s site. The interesting aside is that the majority of retailers promote non stocked inventory, so this feature could potentially obviate the publisher’s own widgets and also those supplied by others such as wholesalers.

If we step back and look at the various pieces of the Google Book World jigsaw we see many that could easy fit together and offer not just a solution that covers digital content but digital context and digital rights. Interesting times!

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