Google yesterday announced their API for the Google Book Search platform (well it had sort of been pre-announced more than 6 months ago) but it has been given more breadth and visibility via this blog announcement. An API or Application Programming Interface is what allows one web service to integrate with and collaborate with another. If you have an API you need to be prepared to welcome the fact that other systems will figure out how to do cool stuff with your data that you never thought possible. The Google Book Search API is pretty tightly constrained, they list 3 API’s and I expect that there will be more, but cool stuff will happen.

The system works efficiently and its much faster than some of the clunky preview systems on offer elsewhere. Here is a title from Arcadia that comes across swiftly and informatively. I can well imagine wanting to buy this book after glimpsing it in the Google search and preview mode. But there is a tendency for the Google system to reduce all the titles it manages to a grey uniformity. In some cases, as with this OUP book hosted at Blackwells, the text appears to be literally grey-ed. Is this because many of the titles are being scanned into the system? I am not sure. But I am sure that many publishers who care deeply about the look and feel, the design and readability of their texts, will not be won over to the Google platform.

The Google Book Search API is a great start, but it is not rich and deep. For that Google will need the active participation of publishers, Google itself will need to be committed to a more open Google Book Search, and there will be a lot more work on structuring texts.

Why does it matter whether your CEO knows what an API is? It matters because publishers (and newspaper owners, TV networks, film studios, content makers of all shapes) are not going to allow Google (YouTube, he she or ItTube, or anybody else) to manage and define the API which has access to their content. Having, or buying into, allying with, the API’s which manage and accesses your content may be the key decision for media companies in the next decade. Either your CEO knows what an API is, and can find out how, in strategic terms, to negotiate Google’s, Amazon’s, Facebook’s and Apple’s, or he/she needs to be a media genius who does it by gut instinct (Rupert Murdoch is the only one of those that I can think of and he is the wrong side of 70). The heads of Random House, Conde Nast, Elsevier, Cengage, Hachette and Pearson really ought to have an intuition about the way their business can develop an API to the servers which are hosting all their content. I wonder if any of them do?