Last week, HarperCollins unveiled its new online strategy, which centers on Amazon-like “Browse Inside” functionality, while also pushing new ways of promoting books and authors online. The New York Times wrote up the new initiative. “Browse Inside” allows visitors to “flip through” books on HarperCollins’ Web site, using an interface similar to the Amazon Online Reader (profiled here) and Google Book Search, though without any notable bells and whistles. With “Browse Inside,” HarperCollins’ goal seems to be to let readers get a real look at its books, while also controlling the environment.
This is not, however, an answer to Google Book Search, as HarperCollins implied it would be when it first went down this path at the end of last year. A New York Times article at the time had HarperCollins CEO, Jane Friedman saying, “Rather than give copies of books to search services like Google for those companies to scan as it currently does, HarperCollins would keep the material on its own computers, and users would be pointed there by the search engine.”
As I wrote at the time, by going this route, HarperCollins builds its own little island, separate from an aggregator like Google Book Search and it encourages other publishers to do the same. The power of something like Google Book Search is that it puts all book content in one place and enables people to search the world of books. HarperCollins claim that its content would be just as accessible via the main Google search engine, while not being as simple as it sounds, is sort of a moot point. It’s like HarperCollins has decided to scatter its books haphazardly around a Wal-Mart rather than putting them in the local library with rest of the books.
It’s laudable that HarperCollins, perhaps prodded by its MySpace-owning parent News Corp, is dipping its toe in the digital waters, and stepping up its efforts to use the Internet to promote and sell books. But Google’s initiative is a separate effort altogether that would neither infringe upon HarperCollins’ strategy nor lead to piracy of any sort.