I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone. – Jack Valenti, former head of the MPAA

I know that Dave Winer has dismissed Google Print as a bad idea, but Dave is often hit or miss with his opinions. However I was surprised to see Dare’s criticism of the effort.

Yes it is true that Google’s “Do No Evil” motto is pure marketing schtick, and now that they are a large corporation, they can be just as evil as any other corporation, that still doesn’t take away from the benefits of the Google print project. Not all profit driven operations are evil. Those at Microsoft should know that.

Is It Going To Harm Publishers?
Dare uses himself as an example in that he almost never buys technical books, but chooses to search the web to find references that he needs. However, if Google is to be believed, there is a big difference with web search and the search within a book feature.

The difference is that with web search you get the full content of what you are searching for. With Google Print, you get a snippet of a page in the book. Perhaps it contain all that you need, perhaps not. If it doesn’t, you’ll spend a lot of time searching trying to hit that exact page. Can you imagine trying to read through a volume of Art of Computer Programming like that? You might as well just physically go to the bookstore.

If you only needed one little piece of information from the book, you probably wouldn’t have bought it anyways, right? For example, Dare already admits he never buys technical books. So how will Google Print take Dare’s money from publishers? They aren’t getting his dollar already.

Personally, I find reading a book to be a great way to get a focused education on a technical topic. However, I would want to be able to search within the book to see that it does cover the topic in the depth I expect, and I hate running to Borders Book Store to do so. It’s a great relief when a book I am considering is part of Amazon.com’s Search Within a Book program.

Technical References are a small part of the total market
Another key point to make is that technical reference books are a very tiny part of the entire book market. I certainly don’t want to read The Invisible Man via search. The general public are not going to search their way through the latest Stephen King novel. I don’t see how searching within a book is going to hurt the huge majority of publishers. As many point out, it will be an enabler of the long tail, perhaps selling books long forgotten by their publishers.

As for the legality of the program, you should read Lawrence Lessig’s take on it. In his opinion, it most definitely constitutes fair use. If that is the case, whether or not it hurts the publishers becomes a moot point. Much like the pain that the VCR caused the movie industry was a moot point. Oh wait, the movie industry made millions off of the VCR…