Google is trimming some services and has laid off some Googlers (not contractors but staff in recruitment). Of course, Google is going to feel the recession and it is big enough and its operations sprawl in ways that will benefit from pruning. We have long been intrigued by the Google Catalogs service, which now, according to Technologizer, folds. This was one of the web services that we looked at most closely when we started Exact Editions (Google Book Search was not then visible). It has always seemed like a good service which lacks a proper commercial motivation. A service with a business model which did not seem to connect to business. Where did they go wrong? What was not connecting with what it should have been connecting with? The short answer is that the service did not really connect with the transactions with which print catalogues are fundamentally concerned. There was no way that you could use the Google web-versioned catalogues to transact effectively with the companies that in most cases had excellent e-commerce facilities on the web: the product IDs and the phone numbers do not connect, do not link, to the e-commerce engine that transacts the business.

The Exact Editions catalogues service for book publishers does do this. ISBN’s and of course email addresses all link from within the catalogue page to the appropriate resources. It is also relevant that the Google service was entirely free (free to the catalogue publishers), and this meant that it was unlikely that Google would ever invest in the tools which would enrich the scanned PDFs with the meta-data that is required. Exact Editions does make this commitment to each catalogue we process, and the publishers can choose whether they want the phone numbers to link, and whether to target Amazon or their own e-commerce operation with the ISBN links, but as a result of this fine-grained approach our service could never be a completely free offering.

This all has implications for Google Book Search. Dont get me wrong, I think that GBS is a magnificent project, and that it will work. It is working. But it will remain monolithic and there will be limitations with this monolithic approach. It is also inevitable that publishers who have a big commitment in their books will want to have additional and superior ways of presenting them to the public. Google will have to deal evenly with its partners, but it will necessarily leave scope for innovators and publishers and authors who find ways of pushing the envelope. Managing and creating the appropriate web presence for each book and magazine will remain a responsibility for publishers.