Titans at War!

Google Book Search has been much publicised and has become a shorthand for both the colossal ambition of Google and its casual disregard for intellectual property or the sensitivities of potential partners. The latter are possibly unsurprising for a company that has seen profit growth of 46% in 2Q07, added nearly 3000 employees in the same period and whose share price hovers casually above $600. This is much like the growth experienced by Microsoft in the 90s, where, according to The Change Function, growth ran at 45% per annum 90-96. Microsoft, who recently capitulated in their long running antitrust battle with the EU, are now the only tech company to have a larger market capitalisation than Google. Not only have Google had all the best ideas (e.g. Google Earth), they have a rock solid, simple business model, a corporate ethos and share structure that has attracted staff away from Microsoft and an approach that specifically targets MS strongholds like email (Gmail vs. Hotmail) and word processing (Google Writer edging towards Word).

Now MS is fighting back by specifically targeting Google strongholds, namely search, the sine qua non for Google's success. Windows Live is the result. Like Google it comes with a clean and simple interface and boasts sophisticated algorithms and an awesomely powerful infrastructure to produce the best and most reliable results. Going back to Book Search, Live features a direct rival: Live Search Books. Like GBS, Live Search Books will integrate text and wide ranging metadata into search thus massively expanding a books visibility. Like Google they will scan all your works and enter your metadata free, taking the onus off publishers by negating the start up costs of what will be a hugely valuable exercise. Unfortunately LSB also claims ownership of the files they create, perhaps the biggest sticking point publishers have so far had with GBS. However unlike GBS MS is handing control of the files back to publishers. So whereas Google are demanding a blanket 20% access, MS are willing to let publishers set this themselves, as well as leaving it up to publishers whether books are included in the first place. Google, in contrast, started with the (maybe noble, maybe evil) presumption to include every book in the world on Google Search.

The two giants slugging it out offers a breathing space for publishers, as the monopolistic, even ideologically hegemonic position of Google is now being challenged by the only people that can.

Talking of giants News International, the parent company of HarperCollins, has been making a big push into the web, famously buying MySpace. Now HC are launching Authonomy in early 08. The Bookseller:

Authonomy, at www.authonomy.com, will initially be rolled out by HCUK in early 2008, with the intention of it becoming a global programme in the future. The site will connect unpublished authors with readers, and will allow anyone to participate. Readers will be able to support their favourite manuscripts, with HC guaranteeing to consider the most popular for publication. HC anticipates that many of the readers will be industry professionals looking for new talent.

Pan was well ahead of the game with MNW. Two things spring to mind regarding Authonomy. First is a certain amount of admiration that they actively hope publishing professionals from across the industry will use it- sure they will try and get good stuff out of it, but so will, potentially other publishing houses. I wonder what they will do if they repeatedly lose out. As Eoin Purcell says:

if, as HC suggest themselves, the site is also a magnet for publishing professionals from beyond HC there is no guarantee that they will take the cream. In fact they could well forced the price of the cream up and simply improve the scrum for talent while costing themselves quite a bit in hosting and marketing.

Secondly this could be huge. As Andrew Kidd recently mentioned on the excellent new Picador blog a YouGov survey found that being a novelist is literally the most coveted job on earth. MNW anticipated and confirmed that. What HC do is basically take the barrier to entry down a step further- you don't even have to send in a manuscript anymore.