Perhaps I should have mentioned in yesterday’s blog that there is a sentimental interest in Google Catalogs from the Exact Editions side. When we were planning our platform in early 2005 we decided that the minimum level of functionality for a digital magazines service, as we conceived of it, was to be as good as Google Catalogs. I am not quite sure why we picked on Google Catalogs as our benchmark, rather than Google Books (which was above the parapet as Google Print when we were prototyping), but I guess that it was partly that the Catalogs service included the double-page view which seems to be essential for magazines. And there may have been other reasons that I cannot now recall. So that is why we noted yesterday with mild tristesse that Google Catalogs seems to be dormant. Our benchmark is fading….
It is ironic that this decay for Google Catalogs should be happening just as we are finding that Book Publishers Catalog(ue)s work well in our platform. But the Exact Editions service is very different in being primarily driven for publishers, and paid for by them, (the Google Catalogs service kept the vendors at arms length and was free). We are not trying to aggregate Catalogues in one repository, but to supply a service to independent publishers web sites, the more the merrier. It is, of course, vastly too small and specific a service opportunity to be of any commercial interest to Google. There is also a very specific reason why book catalogues can be more valuable as digital editions than apparel catalogs, books are really completely exceptional in having a universal and widely used product identifier. The ISBN. If there were ISANs (International Standard Apparel Numbers) Google Catalogs would have linked to them and Google would have become a close ally of all Catalog vendors.
Google Book Search is a completely different kettle of fish. Unlike the Google Catalog system it is already beginning to connect with the publishing and selling opportunities of publishers (see the way that all (?) CUP’s current output, today 35,227 titles, can now be searched with Google Book Search). GBS will indeed be an enormous success, it already has the critical mass to succeed, but it does not follow that it will inevitably lead to a Google monopoly for digital books. There will always be scope for independent technical initiatives (for some books the Google system is not a good solution) and publishers are much more likely to be squashed by Amazon’s terms of trade than by Google’s. Google is becoming a significant ally for the independent publisher and we doubt that it will buy Ingram/Lightning Source, Jassin’s suggestion, which already has a significant collaboration with Microsoft.