I have been in favour of the Google Books project for some time, mainly because the project allows for greater accessibility of scholarship. This past week Google announced a new facet to Google Books. Now, more than 2 million books, which are currently featured on Google Books, can be turned into “instant paperbacks.”
Google has signed an agreement with On Demand Books, the owner of The Espresso Book Machine. The Espresso Book Machine (EBM) can print and bind a book in the same amount of time it takes to brew an espresso. Espresso book machines are currently located in bookstores in the US, Australia, Britain, Egypt and Canada. The Canadian EBMs are currently only a few in University bookstores. This is great for the impoverished student, but somewhat limits the audience which the EBM currently reaches.
This agreement allows for one of the complaints of many Google Books users to be addressed: many people simply do not enjoy reading a 300 page book online. A retail price has not been set for these instant paperbacks, but estimates have been around the eight dollar mark. Overall it sounds like a cost effective way to make public domain books available. That being said, various governments, privacy groups, Amazon and Microsoft have already filed objections to this new agreement.
My love for Google Books has been grown once again. Earlier this month Google released new features for Google Books. A variety of features were released including; the ability to embed books or book previews in html, better searching within book text, page turn feature, and an improved book overview page.
For historians the improved searching within book text is one of the most valuable new features. Search results now appear with context surrounding the searched word, and can be clicked on directly to easily examine relevant content. This is a huge improvement and has the potential to help researchers easily locate relevant information. The ability to embed books in blogs, or websites with a simple html line is also valuable. It allows users who not overly web savvy to easily share pages of works, which has the possibility to enhance interactivity and accessibility.
Recently Scribd opened an online store which is attempting to become the itunes of books. Up until recently Scribd has been completely open source, this past Monday the service began charging for it’s services. Scribd will now keep 20% of each sale, while the remaining 80% will be sent to the owners of the written material. This written material is anything from books, reports, travel guides, and previously unavailable obscure manuscripts (long tail anyone?).
One of the biggest advantages of Scribd is that any document bought can be used on a variety of digital applications, including computers, electronic readers like Kindle, and mobile phones. Scribd will also allow authors to sell individual chapters from their books, similar to itunes selling of individual songs. Additionally, uploading material onto Scribd is relatively simple. Scribd’s “iPaper” converts all uploaded PDFs, Word documents, and Powerpoint files, to web documents that can be accessed by users in whatever format they desire.
Despite the fact that this service is not open source, it does provide a refreshing alternative to amazon and chapters, and is something worth looking into.
As my last post may have hinted to, I have a slight obsession with Google and Google applications. I will openly admit I have spent hours looking through Google images, playing with Google Earth, searching Google Books, and numerous other Google related things.
Various debates have arose over the value of things such as Kindle and Google Books. I personally enjoy the searchability, convenience, and accessibility of Google Books, and find myself wishing more books were digitally available. Like many of my classmates I have yet to jump on the Kindle bandwagon, however I do think it creates a new element of accessibility which is never a bad thing.
Similar to some of the ideas behind the portable Kindle, Google Book Search recently became available on cellphones. Initially, the digitization quality of most books was not high enough to be viewed on cellphone screens. This problem has apparently been resolved and you can now access Google Books via your cellphone. Unlike Kindle or Sony Reader Digital Book, you do have to be using your cellphone’s internet access to use Google Books. Despite this potential drawback, this new facet of Google Books does open up the large number of digitized books to a large number of users who primary means of accessing the internet is through their cellphone. This is not the first web application google has made available to cellphone users. Currently, cellphone users can use Google Latitude to locate their friends in real time, use Voice Search to look things up, and various other applications depending on the users phone.