Friday, March 02, 2007

Comment: Brave New Searchable World

Here's some food for thought for the weekend. This falls under the category of "I'm still figuring this out, so you look at it with me and tell me what you think."

I recieved this press release from the good folks at Random House the other day. I'm pasting it here 'cause that's what press releases are for.


(New York, February 27, 2007)—In a giant stride forward in the emerging world of digital book search, Random House, Inc., the U.S. division of the world’s largest trade book publisher, has announced the launch of its own online book content search and browsing service, named Insight. Through Insight, Random House will make the text searchable for more than 5,000 of its new and backlist titles from across the company’s U.S. publishing divisions. Random House expects to add several thousand more of its books to Insight this spring.

Insight is live today at

An engine for online discovery of book content, the Insight service makes available to all users a fixed number of pages of an archived book’s content, which readers can view by either directly accessing the sample pages or entering a search term. It has been developed to serve both retailers and individuals in ways largely new for trade book publishing.

The Insight service will offer any retailer with a web presence the opportunity to offer to their consumers, with minimal effort and resources on their part, a customized search and browsing experience for the available Random House titles. The great prospective benefit for booksellers and Random House and its authors will be the broader availability of the sample book material for prospective purchasers.

Random House has also created an original application, a “widget,” now available on for all titles in the Insight service. Each widget offers the sample material from one of the titles and easily allows anyone to add this material to a blog, personal or retail website, or social network profile by using basic copy and paste functionality. The opportunity to pass along widgets, increasingly known as “syndicatable distribution,” will significantly increase awareness and potential readership for these books.

Further information for Random House business partners, as well as detailed technical documentation, is available online at

No more than two days after that, I got THIS press release from the good folks at the American Booksellers Association: Offers Benefits of Digitization
Consumers Can Now Browse Sample Pages for Random House, Inc. and HarperCollins Titles

Tarrytown, NY - March 1, 2007 The American Booksellers Association announced today that, ABA's turn-key e-commerce product for member bookstores, has launched functionality to allow consumers to view book content from two leading publishers. Content from HarperCollins’ “Browse Inside” program, and content from Random House, Inc’s “Insight” program, is available to consumers via the “Browse Sample Pages” link now found on websites. By clicking the link, consumers can browse the first few pages of titles from both publishers, and, with Random House titles, consumers can also search inside the book for keywords.

By offering sample book material for more than 7,500 Random House, Inc. and HarperCollins new and backlist titles, independent booksellers have the opportunity to significantly grow on and offline sales for those titles.

“We believe strongly that this kind of added content will help consumers make better informed buying decisions,” said Len Vlahos, ABA’s Director of “We’re very pleased that our partners at both HarperCollins and Random House reached out to the independent bookstores to be early adopters of the technology.” began in 2000 as a feature-rich web option for independent bookstores. Its tools allows ABA members to create customized websites accessing Ingram’s three million title iPage database, a state-of-the-art keyword search, professional commerce tools, and flexible fulfillment methods, including an “on our shelves now” feature.

I'm poking around on the Random House site now, trying to figure out what can be done with this new tool, and imagining how it will affect indie store website, particularly those with BookSense. Perhaps it will be a tool for litbloggers, too. Perhaps this is the tip of the iceberg -- more publishers will follow, along with more integration... or perhaps they've blown their stash. Perhaps customers will find this a useful alternative to Amazon's Look Inside! or Google Book Search... or perhaps not.

In any case, I suspect this is one of the things those sneaky ABA guys had up their sleeves when they convened us for the Digital Task Force. One of the things we stressed as important was keeping indie bookstores at the table when decisions about digitization were being made. This looks like they've secured a spot at that table.

What do you think? What kind of impact will Insight have on readers, on bloggers, on publishers, on booksellers? Is it a usable tool? Do you care about this, or does it not affect your experience of reading? Is it too little, too late, or a big step in the right direction? I'd love to hear what any and all of you have to say about what this means, for now and for the future. Sound off while I figure out whether I agree with you.