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Selling ourselves short on search and discovery

Why don't our own websites enjoy the same content access we offer Google and Amazon?

As my O’Reilly colleague Allen Noren recently reminded me, online discovery pretty much begins and ends with search engines. Look at the analytics of any website and you’ll find the inbound traffic largely comes from Google. So what are we doing as publishers to take better advantage of that fact? What do we expose to those search engines to ensure more of the results displayed point to our websites?

Today’s search engine access is generally limited to our metadata, not full book content. As a result, books are at a disadvantage to most other forms of content online (e.g., articles, blog posts, etc.)

Here’s the big question: At what point do we expose the book’s entire contents to all the search engines? As Allen pointed out, we give all our content to Google Book Search and Amazon but that introduces middlemen. The publisher’s website doesn’t benefit from those programs. So why do we offer this privilege to Amazon and Google but our own websites don’t get the same benefit?

You might point out that Google and Amazon are able to limit reader access to that content. Even though we’ve given them the entire book they don’t let someone read it from cover to cover for free; access is limited to a certain percentage of the total work. Fair enough, but look at this bold example by Craig Mod. Keep in mind that Craig’s goal isn’t to simply let everyone read his book for free. As he puts it:

I also believe that we will sell more digital and physical copies of Art Space Tokyo by having all of the content available online. The number of inbound links to the site should increase exponentially. read.artspacetokyo.com is one of the largest collections of publicly available text about the Tokyo art world online. Organic search traffic should increase accordingly, and by having upsells on every page, the conversion to paid users should follow suit.

Craig goes on to say he’ll report the results at some point. I can’t wait. Even if his experiment doesn’t lead to a large number of paying customers there will undoubtedly be many lessons to learn from it.

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  • http://twitter.com/PeterTurner Peter Turner

    One of the advantages of hosting a browse-inside functionality like Calameo, Zinio to your publisher/retail website is to you can open and close the amount of content you allow readers to access. The problem is if you allow access of the entire book in one file it takes a lot of time to load. Craig Mod’s example provides the files by chapter, which solves this problem, but might be cumbersome on a retail site that had hundreds or thousands of books, not to mention the hand-wring it would cause DRM advocates.

  • Ljndawson

    Joe, I’d consider looking at http://www.schema.org – in addition to the standard metadata about a book, it’s also possible to mark up the xHTML of the ebook itself, index it, and allow search to be performed against that index. Google is currently using Schema and RDF to create “rich snippets” and its Knowledge Graph – both Wikipedia and Best Buy are heavily involved. Putting a book in a search index doesn’t mean the whole thing is immediately available – you can specify which parts it’s okay to display, and which parts are good for search only. There is plenty of content on the open web already that’s searchable but not display-able.

    The point is to make the relevant passages of any given book come up in an organic search for a topic, and then if the reader wants more information, offering a link to buy the book. (Or several – if a DOI is used to identify the book, for example, that DOI can resolve to multiple websites.)

    Semantic markup within books themselves will go a long way towards solving this problem.

  • http://profiles.google.com/edward.w.bear Edward Bear

    Most publishers’ attitude toward their customers seems pretty much limited to: “Don’t bother us, we’re *publishers*! Talk to your bookstore.” As for anything that might help with discovery, the publishers apparently complained to Amazon and had a service called “Findings” shut down because  it “exposed content”.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120918/18165120420/book-publishers-latest-war-technology-how-dare-you-share-your-kindle-highlights.shtml

    Gee. A really neat quote like the following from Mira Grant’s marvelous novel “Blackout”:

    You know what’s awesome? A******* who do all their research, and have all the pieces of the puzzle, and can’t be bothered with anything that doesn’t fit the picture they’ve decided they’re putting together. You know. Idiots. The kind of stupid you can manage to achieve only by being really, really smart, because only really, really smart people can reach adulthood without having any goddamn common sense.

    might actually induce me to get the entire trilogyand read *all* of it!

    • jwikert

      I too am quite irritated with Amazon’s decision to tell Finings they need to stop sharing Kindle Highlights. As I mentioned here, http://oreil.ly/VhdeoQ, I seriously doubt that’s the result of any publisher outcry though.