Google's Big Week: Fast Flip Launches; reCAPTCHA Acquired; Lawsuit Heats Up

First, apologies for the radio silence--it's end of quarter here at Forrester, and I've been busy adding to shareholder value, etc.But I did want to add a quick comment on what's happened on the Google/publisher/eBook scene this week, as Google:

 

Launched the Fast Flip application. Google's launch of the Fast Flip application is an olive branch extended to publishers. For those of you who haven't used it, it's pretty cool: You search for a term, like "Kindle," and the results are presented as screenshots of major media publications (BusinessWeek, Fast Company, The Atlantic, NYTimes, Slate, etc.) that have covered the topic recently. You can read about a screen's worth, and flip to the next one by clicking the big arrows on the left or right, or click into the story to go to the publisher's web site and continue reading. Google shares ad revenue with publishers, and shows just enough content to encourage click-through to the publisher's site, where users see more ads.

 

Our take: For Google, the Fast Flip is an attempt to be a better partner to publishers. As much as publishers would like to think that Google needs them, only the reverse is true. But Google is starting to invest more in creating goodwill for publishers in the newspaper, magazine, and book sectors, and the Fast Flip is part of that effort.

 

For publishers, the Fast Flip is a much bigger deal than it is for Google. The user experience is clean and fast, and gives readers the right balance of offering enough content to be useful but withholding enough to encourage click-through. It's a much more engaging experience than reading news feeds on your Google Reader or iGoogle page. Consumers who try it will like it, and given Google's scale, the revenue-share could be significant for publishers. It's also an ego victory for publishers: They've finally coaxed Google to share its Midas touch.

 

Acquired reCAPTCHA. Google announced it is acquiring reCAPTCHA, the technology that crowdsources teaching computers to be better at interpreting scanned text, for an undisclosed sum. reCAPTCHA's technology is used to protect sites from fraud and spam, but many of the words used in the decoding puzzles come from scanned texts of old newspapers and books. It's not hard to see why this would be a useful technology for Google to own.

Our take: Even as resistance to Google's settlement with authors and publishers heats up (the Justice Department filed its concerns today), Google is doubling down on its investment to scan the world's book collection. As we've mentioned before, Google's progress towards this goal has been impressive: They have 1/15 the number of books that Harvard does, and 1/32 the number of books the Library of Congress has.

This is an incredible feat, and the business implications cannot be overstated. It's no wonder why Amazon, Microsoft, and Yahoo don't want Google to succeed: They are all looking at an industry of print book sales (worth $25B in the US alone) that is just beginning a process of digitization. As with other forms of media, when books are digitized, value is destroyed--the $25B US book industry won't be worth $25B in 5 years, but new value will be also be created in the process. Google intends to benefit from the value being created in digital books through advertising, and this is huge. There are few other media that currently contain no ads--cocktail napkins, highways, and bathroom stalls have all succumbed, but books are blue ocean for advertising.

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