Google Fast Flip and the Future of Magazines/Newspapers

We took a pot-shot at Fast Flip the other day. There are a few more lessons to be drawn. The Search Engine Journal take particularly struck me. My issue was really with their headline: Google Labs Rolls Out Fast Flip, Google Book Preview for News
Whilst one can “kind of” see what SEJ are getting at: images of the publication; full page views; a linear arrangement for navigation (but note horizontal rather than the predominantly vertical scroll in Books Search); the same database squirrelling away in the background to serve pages, searches and deliver links. The overall feel is certainly more like Google Books than it is like Google News. But what had struck me when I first sampled it was the way in which Fast Flip as an interface differs from that supplied for the books collection. The intention is also very different. Fast Flip is really about skimming and Google Books is a proto-reading system. There really are some big differences between Fast Flip and the way Book Search works.

  1. Google Books Search does not present us with arrays of parallel book content, fast flipping between books, the emphasis in Books Search is to drill down into the book. In effect to read the book. If Google had launched Books Search with the manifesto: “In the age of the internet the atomic unit of consumption is the page and the Google library will allow you to fast flip between pages in different books using the relevance tags inserted by Google.” there would have been uproar in the halls of learning.
  2. Some magazines are included in Book Search (though periodicals, including magazines) are excluded from the Settlement) and they are treated pretty much in the same way as books. But again with horizontal layout and thumbnails as an option (primarily, I guess, because of the prevalence of double page spreads). But these magazines are the print magazines not the web services.
  3. Google Books Search allows the user to preview the actual image of the book’s page. But Fast Flip is entirely predicated on the fact that many newspapers have built websites which repurpose their issues to web pages. Google Books Search is deeply ‘type-based’. Fast Flip is snapping images from web pages. Quite a different matter and much less predictable as web pages are often dynamic. In its approach to books Google presupposes that what matters is the actual printed text and its fixed pagination.
  4. Google in the light of their probable/maybe settlement of the Google Books Search cases will be committed to selling individual books. Selling them in large packages to libraries, but also selling them individually. But Fast Flip has been launched in a barrage of Google comment that presupposes (along with much conventional wisdom) that newspapers and magazines cannot be sold through subscriptions on the web. Or only in exceptional circumstances. But Google has a business plan in which millions/billions of licenses to individual titles within Google Book Search are going to be sold to individual consumers (and held within individual accounts until the expiry of copyright or account holder)? If so, digital magazines should also be saleable to subscribers. As we know, at Exact Editions, that they can be.

Google Books Search has plenty of problems (not all of them legal), but in its conception and its goals it is much, much better than Fast Flip. Newspapers and magazines would do much better to pay full attention to the way in which the Google Books Service is shaping up. Fast Flip is an experiment, a jeu, from Google Labs. Google Books is a mammoth, a juggernaut, a tsunami for publishers. Not only for book publishers. Magazines and newspapers need to figure out how they can make money selling digital editions of their publications which sit alongside that juggernaut and which are database driven web services providing paid for and (on many occasions) free access to the content which would otherwise have been printed. If digital books are to be sold online to libraries and individuals why should not newspapers and magazines be licensed to subscribers in very similar fashion?

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