September 23, 2010

Where is Google Editions, and should it stay there?


Remember Google Editions? It was/is the open source e-book platform by Google that was to be launched sometime during the summer. It was touted as a potential savior for independent bookstores and publishers alike, allowing each to more actively participate in the electronic book market. Glorious too is the notion that Google Editions will be available not through download but via live access online, meaning that a wide variety of e-readers will be able to work with Google’s books. Truly, its wonders would never cease.

Well, it’s late September now and a few of us are wondering just what happened to this game-changer.

In particular Greg Sandoval at cnet is asking the above and getting some answers waived away from the altar.

“The real answer is, we’ll launch the service when it’s ready,” Google spokeswoman Jeannie Hornung tells CNET. She later added: “We definitely have plans to launch later this year.”

Okay then. We understand. You’re Google. But then something else comes to mind, namely the question of just what is keeping it from release? It is Google we’re talking about after all, and surely they have the resources to complete any project.

Then there is this article by Andrew Orlowski detailing Google Editions’ troubling metadata policies. It seems that Google Editions, sometimes referred to as “The Last Library” because of the scope of its scanning practice, has handled the ponderous logistics of cataloging their titles by creating a fully open cataloging process. So what does this mean? Orlowski looked to Stanford linguist Geoffrey Nunberg (whose The Future Of The Book is an absolute must read) for answers.

Nunberg found that potentially hundreds of thousands of books were misdated, with titles credited to authors before they were born. Google Books showed books from the Victorian era discussing Jimi Hendrix, or the microprocessor, for example. Bonfire of the Vanities was dated 1888. Attribution errors commonly miscredited authors, with Madame Bovary credited to Henry James. And bizarre classification errors abound. A Mae West biography was filed under Religion, for example. Jane Eyre showed up under Love Stories, Architecture, and Antiques and Collectables. And on top of this mass of errors, was a superstructure of erroneous links. Google’s “related books” rarely point to anything related.

So it seems that Google Editions have a long way to go when it comes to replacing the academe’s libraries or even an out-of-print edition of Books In Print. Then again, if this is in fact the snag holding up Google Editions then that means Big G is acknowledging criticism from external sources, which of course is confounding (if hopeful) in its own right.

Receptive or not, Google appears to have encountered problems with the release of their bookstore and it would seem that one plus one equals a delay born of startling inaccuracies in Google’s metadata catalog.

This leaves us with really only one question remaining. Mae West wasn’t a religious figure?

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.