Sunday, December 04, 2005

Google Print Business Model

Here’s how I would think about monetizing Google Print :

Web-Search : AdWords = Print-Footnotes : Google-Print-Ads

The way Google seems to be thinking about it is:

3rd-Party-Web-Pages : AdSense = Google-Print-Books : Google-Print-Ads

In other words, Google seems to be using the adsense model (judging the context of the book to place ads) rather than allowing users to place ads on specific books, or paragraphs within books. The former is a technology based model, while the latter is a market based model. I would argue that not only would the market based model be better, it would also be truer to the origins of Google’s success.

Google’s search provides users with FREE links related to the words they are searching for, sorting the links based on the “merit… of [other] pages linking to them.” If I remember correctly, the premise was based on the academic system of ranking a paper’s importance by the number of referrals it gets from other academic works of merit. In effect, Google’s search algorithm recreates the idea of ‘footnotes’ for the web. But (non-fiction) books already have footnotes. If I am reading an academic book on the web, I don’t need AdSense to tell me what the relevant links are, I already have footnotes that can refer me to other works which relate to a particular word, sentence or paragraph in the book (ie via the footnote)

So first of all, if I were Google, I would make those footnotes live. Live Footnotes are in effect, like non-paid search – unless of course Google enters the Amazon Associate program. (I couldn’t resist that one.) Let’s take the easy example first. If I am reading Chernow’s “Alexander Hamilton” and a footnote refers me to a book about the history of the US department of Treasury, I may want to click on that to find out more… those references are already there in the book’s footnote – they just need to be hyperlinked.

But let’s say, I am the publisher of “American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson” and I see a reference to Jefferson in Chernow’s book, which “American Sphinx” has talked about at length, taking a different view on the matter. Would that not be the ideal place to place an ad for the book – along with a reference that says: “American Sphinx discusses this issue at more length arguing that…. etc etc. Click here to see more / buy”?

So why not create a live marketplace for people to put text ads, comments and references next to specific ‘micro-chunks’ of text – allowing users to create dynamic ‘free’ content out of books. (Clearly some serious technology will be needed to filter out spam, and rank commetns etc, but that's not a show stopper for Google's scientists.)

User Comments first: If I am reading a book on Google Print, I may want to post a comment or note directly on it and cross post it to my blog, thus creating an extra layer of non-commercial footnotes… (This is like a microchunked version of Amazon user comments.) Google’s books would then show the links to the highest page-ranked comments, if a reader chooses to view them. Such comments could obviously make the reading experience much more dynamic and web-like, and create a loosely structured wealth of user comments for context.

But would people actually put ads on books? I imagine that when AdWords started, only the most obvious words were bought. The same would happen with such a system. Finance books would probably attract early adopters - Vanguard might buy ads on sections about diversified portfolios. Schwab might buy links related to “Beta”, and offer advice etc. Morgan Stanley may link to some of its research products. (But the same ad buyers may not want to buy ads on ALL books and passages relating to 'diversification' or 'beta' - which is partly where adsense would fail.)

AdSense was brilliant because it solved a large problem for millions of small web sites and (blog) publishers trying to monetize their pages. For these small sites, it was not other wise economical to create an effective market of advertisers. But for more popular books, one should be able to create a market for advertisers to show highly relevant and USEFUL links related to the text. It would seem strange to use an automated system to show Ads for say, Keynes’s “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money” - there would just be too many people who would want to buy text ads around it.

(Thx to Umair for the Google Print Link)

(Isn't it fun to play 'if I were Google' every once in a while?)