Google Ogles Print

Kevin Canfield
From the January/February 2005 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

The widely used online search engine Google recently launched a new feature that allows Web users to search within pages of published books.

Here’s how it works: When users begin a search for any topic, Google displays a link to an actual page from a book in which that topic appears. For example, a Google search for “Books on Don DeLillo” turns up, among others, a link to a page from New Essays on White Noise, edited by Frank Lentricchia and published by Cambridge University Press in 1991. Users can read several of the book’s pages, and, should they choose to buy the title, click on a link to the book’s publisher and several online booksellers.

Google Print derives its revenue from ads that appear on the excerpt pages, and participating publishers receive a payment whenever those ads are clicked. Several commercial publishers—Warner Books, Penguin, and Houghton Mifflin among them—have already made books available to the company. It is unclear how many titles Google has scanned for use in the program; as of this writing, estimates have reached 100,000. A message on the Google Print Web site ( states, “Right now we’re just testing this program, so relatively few books are included in the Google search results. But we’ll continue to scan and index—so you’ll see more and more books popping up in your search results in the coming months.”

Some authors have reportedly raised concerns about copyright issues, fearing that a book’s content will be copied illegally. Google did not return a phone call seeking comment, but the company has stated previously that copyrights are protected. Users can browse only two pages backward and forward from any page where their search term appeared; pages cannot be printed, and their content cannot be copied and pasted elsewhere.

Allan Kornblum, the publisher of Coffee House Press, says the varied reaction to Google Print illustrates the “large chasm” that separates writers and publishers on some issues. “Publishers believe that the more opportunities for a book to be seen, the more opportunities people have to see excerpts from an author’s text, the greater the chance that a reader will want to buy the book. Agents and authors tend to worry about getting ripped off.”

Kornblum says he believes Google Print could be a boon to the industry. “I applaud Google’s interest in making it possible for more readers to get a taste of the many wonderful books that get published and then languish in unopened cartons,” he says. “I’m all for anything that might tempt new readers to buy new books.”

Kevin Canfield is a journalist in New York City.