A Good Cause
Google aren’t the first to digitise and archive books. Project Gutenberg have been doing it for years and have a catalogue of over 17000 free e-books. These are transcribed by volunteers the world over and uploaded in many languages, with the aim of making as much literature available to as many people as possible.
Google have a similar aim, albeit with a commercial leaning. As well as free texts, they allow authors to upload a precis of their own book, with links to sellers. If the book you want is under copyright you get a few pages for free and you have the option of buying the rest.
If you wanted to search for a book, you might think you’d have to click on Google’s ’book search’ option, easily available from the main page. Well, you don’t. Book results will appear in some search results whether you like it or not. Google assumes you’re interested in the books that match your phrase, not just the websites. Have they forgotten what the internet is for?
Don’t get me wrong, I love books. I read loads and I think free electronic copies are brilliant. But there’s a place for them and the main search results aren’t it.
For the sake of argument let’s assume I really do want a book. I want Ulysses by James Joyce. Thankfully the very first result, above the proper results, is a bolded Google Books page:
I think I’ll click it and download my free copy; no need to search Project Gutenberg after all.
Google books will make Google money through advertising, and their monopoly on search will eventually take traffic from similar projects. Non-profits like Gutenberg may find themselves squeezed out as the giant of search keeps internet users inside its own network. The cause isn’t looking so noble anymore.