Publishers are being out-Googled

<p>Sometimes I think tech people understand books better than book people. How else can you explain the fact that Google, LibraryThing and Amazon have had greater success at building online tools for books than publishers? It's not about e-books or online content so much as it's about offering simple tools and services for listing books and collecting information about them.</p>
<p>The recent spate of <a href=" tools from Google Book Search </a>is a great example of what I mean. The 'My Library' service lets a user list the books they own, rate them, review them and see who else owns them. What is more, using Google's Book Search you can add a new book simply by searching for it and, when you find it, clicking a button - it's that easy.</p>
<p>Google offers more than just a listing feature too. They also launched 'Popular Passages', which displays sections of books that are regularly quoted or referenced on a book's information page. There was a third new service last week too, a clipping tool that allows anyone to display a clipped section of a book on their blog and, even more interestingly, to store the clip to their Google Notebook allowing for easy note and reference taking if you use both services (educational publishers beware). And that&rsquo;s just Google.</p>
<p>So what can be done? It would be a start if all publishers offered readers the ability to engage with books on their company&rsquo;s website. The ability to tag, review, rate and discuss even just the books they published. But even then we would only be trailing the work of others not pushing out the boundaries.</p>
<p>Perhaps it is time for the larger publishers to acquire the companies that are doing the job well. For instance rather than just teaming up with LibraryThing Random House ought to buy it outright. That would give them a huge lead in the online world of books.</p>
<p>Publishers do have competitive advantages of course and Penguin put one of them to good use in their recent website redesign when it included a blog from Nick Hornby. But readers still have no way to attach their data to Penguin books and Penguin do not benefit from collecting that data.</p>
<p>There are other tools available to us too. All publishers have huge amounts of information about the books we publish much of which is in-house and is not included in the book as sold. That information can provide insights which Google, even if it scans every book in the world as it hopes, could never match. We should be packaging that information so that it is usable and digestible allowing readers to add to it and offering it online to build new communities around books and to engage with established ones.</p>
<p>It is frustrating for someone who is ambitious for this industry to watch it do so little in the face of massive change. Publishers are in second place when it comes to online initiatives and we need to become competitive. Unless we shift gear, stop spending time complaining, and start pushing innovation and take risks online, the industry is going to be outmatched by other players and our readers are going to have online engagement with our books through other sources.</p>