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Google to sell e-books?

The search giant reportedly plans to start charging visitors to access full, digital versions of books. Are publishers on board?

Stefanie Olsen Staff writer, CNET News
Stefanie Olsen covers technology and science.
Stefanie Olsen
2 min read

This fall, Google plans to start charging visitors to access full digital versions of books in its database in partnership with publishers, according to an article published Thursday by The New York Times (subscription required). Google currently lets people read only excerpts of books online, as part of its agreements with book publishers. The story cites unnamed sources familiar with the plans, and Google did not comment on the alleged plans.

But if true, the effort will be a significant shift for Google's digital book project, Google Book Search, and likely mean renegotiated and newly formed contracts with publishers. That would likely be a thorny process, given that Google's work to digitize library books has led to some publisher lawsuits. (The article didn't name prospective partners.)

According to the story, publishers will set the price for their books--likely based on a percentage of the cover price--and share the revenue with Google. When that happens, it will be a coming of age for all of the industry efforts to digitize books. Amazon, Google and the Internet Archive, along with a slew of universities and European entities, have been furiously scanning books to build superior databases for public perusing. Whether or not people drop their love of pulp remains to be seen.

No doubt Google has been leading up to wider book sales. The company has run the Google Book Search Partner Program for the last two years. That program encourages smaller publishers to add digital renditions of their books to its collection under the promise that any future book sales are split.

In the meantime, Google is making improvements to its book service. Google product manager Adam Mathes highlighted in the company blog new features that let people create a personal collection of book excerpts and share those with friends. "We've also launched a way to let users select, copy and embed segments of public domain books--in any web page. We hope to make it as easy to blog and quote from a book as it is from any Web page," Mathes wrote.