Are Google Books On Demand Books Ready?

Despite the fact I've been advocating for Google Books to partner with a POD (Print on Demand) provider for years, there's something amiss that I can't quite put my finger on.

How about two fingers?

Or the whole hand:-)

I only downloaded one book from Google Books this year, and it included more than a half dozen such image errors which I'm going to call "finger spam." Google has come to dominate the competitive business of Internet search in large part because of their ability to fight spam. If they are going to be successful making scanned books available on demand, they're going to need to start fighting finger spam as well. My suggestion is that the Google Books department appoints Matt Cutts their new editor-in-chief.

There's a large difference between the search business and the book business that Google and On Demand Books may have missed in their deal to move scanned books back to print with the Espresso Book Machine. The book business, even the out-of-copyright public domain book business, employs people called editors, who at least glance at the pages before putting a book in print. The search business is about incremental improvements, where "good enough" is as good as it gets. The book business is fussy, and readers who encounters finger spam in the wrong location aren't going to click on the next result. They're going to ask for their money back and buy their next book from Amazon or visit a library instead.

I've been writing about Google Books since 2005 and came out in September of that year with a quote Google uses on their website, that Google Books (then called Google Print) can only help book sales. Since that time I've frequently commented that making the scanned eBooks available on-demand through a partnership with Lightning Source or another POD vendor was the logical next step. Well, the logical next step was actually selling eBooks, a program I signed up for in early 2006 that Google never got around to implementing. And as recently as June of this year I recommended that Google hook up with On Demand Books and their Espresso 2.0 Book Machine in this hurried video (around 2:30 in if you want to skip forward:-)

I'm not having a change of heart about the synergy between scanned books and POD or the benefit to the public of making out of print books available in print again, my problem is strictly with the implementation. Both Google and On Demand Books need to recognize that printing books with unreadable pages is a major no-no in publishing. I'm sure they realize that already, but in the world that Google has lived and worked up to this day, getting things right the first time has never been that critical. Perhaps Google plans to come up with an algorithm that tracks book returns and uses the data to determine which scanned books have problems that make them unreadable - an elegant engineering solution. But it's not good enough for readers who pay for a printed book, take it on vacation, and get to the final page of the novel where the hero - who knows?

Memo to public domain book publishers who didn't believe me when I told them that eventually Google or Amazon would eat their lunch: On Demand Books is just the first step, so heads up.

Memo to Google Books. Say "no" to finger spam. Don't do evil. Call Matt Cutts.

Memo to readers. I'm off for Rosh HaShanna this weekend, and I'm planning to revert to my old Tuesday posting schedule next week.


Gary Roberts said...

I've been ordering samples of Google books as produced by partner Universities as well as the hoi polloi who are ripping off the files and publishing them as from their own collecition. ABE and Amazon are now rife with such junk.

The University partnership books are a tad better. No fingers. But the look remains anemic. Graphics are often so washed out you can't make heads or tails of the details.

Google will have to really get it's acto together to make this work. As I've seen so far, people buy a copy from a given University but don't buy more.

As for the rubes buying the google book ripoffs, they get what they paid for. Fingertips, waving pages and all.


Morris Rosenthal said...


You bring up an interesting point with rip-offs. Just out of curiosity, I have to remember to ask my attorney (specializes in copyright and IP) what force the legal language in the eBooks downloaded from Google has. I don't remember having to go through a click licensing agreement, and even if there was one, the books themselves are public domain, the only thing Google is adding to the pages is a watermark.