Despite DOJ scrutiny, Google adds new features to Google Books

Google gives Google Books better search, embedded links

Today, Google announced a host of new features for Google Books, its site that makes the entire contents of books available for online search. The new-and-improved Google Books adds several new features for working with the electronic books that Google has showcased online. This despite the fact that last week, the Department of Justice said it would be taking a closer look at the underlying $125 million deal that makes Google Books possible.

The new features include:

1. Embeds and links. Users can embed a preview of a book in any websites or blogs with a simple html snippet, similar to embedding a YouTube video. (We've used it to embed this magazine cover into this blog post, for example.)

2. Beefed-up search within books. More of the content around the search term will be shown and a drop down contents menu is now available, allowing users to jump to chapters or articles.

3. New ways to view the content. A new thumbnail view lets users see all the pages in a public domain book or in a magazine. A Plain Text Mode will convert the content to plain text which Google says can then be processed by text-to-voice readers for visually impaired searchers. A click-to-turn button allows readers to turn pages.

4. More facts about the books scanned. The Overview Page now includes more stuff, including reviews, ratings, summaries, related books, key words and phrases, references from the web, places mentioned in the book, publisher information

But its a brazen move on Google's part considering that just last week, the Department of Justice said it was going to review more carefully -- and not rubber stamp -- the underlying deal that makes Google Books legally possible.

Time magazine offers an interesting take on the continued uproar. Some parties (such as librarians) are still fighting a hard fight to smash Google's plan to become the world's biggest bookstore and library wrapped into one. Its first proposed attempt to scan books lead to a lawsuit by publishers and authors. In October, the company reached a complex, $125 million settlement that allows it to show up to 20% of the books' text online at no charge to Web surfers. A Book Rights Registry where publishers and authors can register their work was created. Readers can buy copies of books with Google keeping 37% of the revenue.

But there's a catch that has inflamed Google's opposition and caused the DOJ to take another look. The deal gives Google an exclusive license to publish so-called "orphan books," out-of-print books whose authors and publishers are unknown. Google won't have to contend with legal action if an author or owner comes forward later. This exclusive right will make it nearly impossible for another digital bookstore or subscription library to compete, critics say, which could naturally allow Google to smash competitors and drive up prices.

While its true that some of the new features are nifty. And certainly some of them will make it easier for Google Books to interact with Google Books for mobile which is available for Android and iPhone users. But none are earth shattering. Rather than laying low while the DOJ does its thing, Google is shaking its fist and egging its critics on.

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