Now google that – Google in the news

Ralf Schlozer
Dec 3, 2010

As one of the foremost companies in one of the foremost growth industries, Google seems to be constantly in the press, but this week their news has been especially prolific. And interestingly three of the announcements taken together could have an impact on the printing industry. In detail they were:
– Google to move into the ebook market at end of year
– Google ramps up anti-piracy measures
– EU launches Google antitrust investigation

First and of most importance for the printing and publishing industry is that Google is now moving into the ebook market before the end of this year with Google Editions. Google Editions will let people buy electronic books that they can read on any device with a web browser. With this news, not only is Google entering into direct competition with Amazon and Apple, but it is also entering into competition with any entity that relies on the printed book such as bookstores, printers and probably all the publishers, all of whom want to maintain good profit margins on printed books. Since Google does not offer its own e-reader (yet), Google’s ebooks will target open platforms and most likely especially those using Google’s own operating system Android, which is increasingly being used on tablet PCs. Samsung claims that they have sold more than 600,000 Galaxy Tab products using Android.

Admittedly piracy is one of the biggest risks in ebooks, as the music industry has already experienced with digital distribution of songs. Google plans to take measures to prevent piracy of ebooks, tying them to buyers’ accounts and splitting them into small pieces which would be very hard to reassemble into a book. To buy a book a user has to open an account with Google, which provides a “bookshelf” in which the user’s ebooks are stored and accessed. The access is in chunks, not as a complete download, and each fragment has unique coding. Google will also monitor the bookshelf and its access. Even with such monitoring, it does raise cause for concern as users have often found a way to share digital content.

This is where the second piece of news comes in. Google will now react much faster in regard to pirated content and will remove it from its search list. Kent Walker, general counsel for Google, said in a blog post that the company will “act on reliable copyright takedown requests within 24 hours”. Walker added that Google will start to censor its Autocomplete search function — which predicts what a web user might be about to input into the search box as they type — to “prevent terms that are closely associated with piracy” from appearing. This could be an artist’s name in conjunction with a certain download site or a combination of key words.

Now this is interesting to see in connection with a news item earlier this week. On the 30th of November the European Commission launched what it calls an investigation of “exclusivity obligations” imposed by Google on advertisers. According to this the search giant uses its dominant position to favor its own web properties and paid search traffic in Google search results. With “googling” being synonymous for web-searching this investigation has a lot of significance. The problem is the Google’s ranking algorithm is one of the best kept secrets and not likely to appear on Wikileaks soon, therefore how Google assembles its results page is their business. Its impact on trade, however, has larger implications.

Nothing might come out of that investigation but given the ability and general willingness for Google to influence search results it will be interesting to see whether the EU commission can unearth anything about how Google impacts competition. It’s an even more timely topic now, particularly as Google’s ebooks begin to complete with printed books.

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