Google’s new move: good for readers, bad for Amazon?

Google’s new move: good for readers, bad for Amazon?

Amazon and Google don’t exactly walk through the consumer wonderland hand-in-hand. 😉

While Amazon has never been the walled garden some suggest (for example, the e-tailer had the Netflix app in the Appstore and available on their tablets from the beginning, when it directly competes with Prime Video), there’s been a clear division for people who use both companies (as I do).

Amazon tablets can’t use Google Play directly. That’s a real limitation, and my sense is that it is Google’s decision, not Amazon’s.

They compete in music, appstores…and books.

On the latter, I don’t think Google has hurt Amazon much…the percentage of e-books that people own which they purchased from Google (not just found free public domain books) has to be tiny compared with Amazon.


Google has a new search result tool which could make some difference.

I (and apparently others) had missed, or missed the significance of, an announcement from Google about a month ago. I’m grateful to this

Lifehacker article by Nick Douglas

for the heads up.

When you search for a book title on Google, it now tells you which public libraries have the book available near you…and you can borrow it right there (if you have a “library card”). On a mobile device, you tap, “Get book” (then “Borrow ebook”, but you might be able to see the latter without tapping), on a laptop/desktop, you should see the options, probably on your right.

I’ve been testing it out, and it’s clearly inconsistent at this point. It doesn’t happen for lots of books, but that may just be because they’d rather not show negative findings. Still, it apparently only searches Overdrive, which is the predominant e-book server for individuals using public libraries for e-books, but it isn’t the only one.

For the sake of argument, let’s just say postulate that when people search for a book title with Google, they’ll be able to borrow the book from the public library if it’s available.

What would that mean?

Before I speculate, here’s a link you can try:

search for “It Stephen King”


First, this does have the potential to hurt sales at Amazon…but only for a particular segment of customers/readers. Traditional publishers (at least some of them) were pretty reluctant to have e-books in public libraries, initially…part of the argument was that the e-books didn’t wear out like p-books (paperbooks) do, so libraries wouldn’t have to replace them as often. There were some strong restrictions, if the books were available at all. This would seem to play into those fears.

That said, my guess would be that most people who are using Google to search for a book are looking for a free one. Not all of them are particular about the books being legal, either. It’s not difficult to scan a p-book and make a PDF out of it, then put it up online. There are a lot of reasons people do that…they aren’t all trying to make money, although some do by having advertising on the site hosting the downloads.

If someone wants to buy an e-book, my bet would be that the vast majority of them go to Amazon (or Barnes & Noble, if they have a Nook), or perhaps iTunes.

It is possible that people search for an e-book and don’t find a free copy, then they push further.

I would think this would affect bestsellers, more than smaller market or older titles. Google searching for a book feels to me (and I freely admit, much of this post is speculation) like it is more likely to be used by a “casual reader” than by a “serious reader” (I define the latter as reading fifty books or more a year).

I think the impact will be small.

Second, Amazon could lose all income from selling e-books…and it wouldn’t make much difference to their bottom line. It’s no longer a big part of t

Right now, the Google search includes buying the book…but not at Amazon. 🙂 Barnes & Noble, Google Books, and Kobo all showed for me on the search for “It”. I doubt that pulls that much from Amazon’s sales.

I think it hurts Amazon a small amount, and considerably helps some readers. I usually don’t borrow e-books from the public library. I can afford books to read, including being a happy member of

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and there is “scarcity” for public library e-books, although a lot of people find that counter-intuitive. A library can’t just copy the file for everybody who wants it; there are legal licensing issues.

That may change for me: I’ve mentioned that we have a life change coming up, and now we have more of a timeline for it. My Significant Other is voluntarily leaving a job, and we aren’t quite sure what will happen after that (we’ve done the math…we’ll be okay). If money got a lot tighter, and there was a book I really wanted to read and the public library was the only way to get it, I don’t have any hesitation or see a negative to it. It’s just not my habit now.

Now, some of you may wonder about how this is different from this

Chrome extension tells you if that Kindle book is in your public library

that I wrote about previously.

When I go to a book’s Amazon product page in Chrome, I automatically see if it’s available at the public library…and yes, that’s similar.

It’s also different, though, because people who are at Amazon are already likely to get books from Amazon. It’s convenient to keep it altogether: if I could have every single payment I ever make for anything go through Amazon, I would. To use the extension, people have to also first install the extension…a much smaller slice than the people who just search with Google.

One more group I want to mention: does this help or hurt authors? Many of my readers are authors, so that’s obviously a concern.

Authors may not get as much for each library borrow as they get for a book sold, but that’s going to depend on contract.

The reason why this helps is that it may replace, to some extent, people getting pirated copies (for which authors get nothing).

I believe that the vast majority of people would rather do something that is legal, and something that would benefit the author, than something that wouldn’t.

If somebody searched for It, and could borrow it easily from the public library or get a PDF from an iffy source, I think they’d go with the library…even though they don’t end up owning the book. Ownership is arguably less important to people than it used to be.

Well, those are my thoughts on this, and there is a lot of speculation and presumption in this piece. What do you think? When would you search for a book with Google as opposed to just going to Amazon? Would you rather own a PDF of uncertain provenance, or borrow an e-book from a library for a couple of weeks? Will this make any real difference to Amazon? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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9 Responses to “Google’s new move: good for readers, bad for Amazon?”

  1. Phink Says:

    This will not affect me because I have never been one to borrow a book from the library. I have mentioned on here before that for some strange psychological reason I have a need to own what I watch or read. This is why I never rent movies although I do go to the movies every great once in a while. I’d guess once a year or two.
    As you have pointed out I don’t actually own my kindle books. I own a license that allows me to read them but I tell ya, it sure feels like ownership so I guess it’s OK.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phink!

      I make a point to say that you own the license, as you point out, so it is indeed ownership. I used to be big on ownership, but I’m often find with paying for use now.

  2. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Not sure this quite fits in here, but I got notification from Amazon today that I’ve got an additional $44 plus change credit from the Apple e-books antitrust settlement. I had thought that concluded last year.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Yes, I got one today too! I plan to write about it and when I get home from work.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thank for writing, Lady!

      This payment was actually anticipated, for people who had participated in the earlier one. I think this is it under current settlements, but there could always be more settlements. Well, not always, but for some time to come. 🙂

      You got more than we did…I wasn’t buying as many Big Six (later Big 5) books at the time as some people.

  3. Tom S Says:

    Without knowing anything about how authors are paid for the books I borrow from the library, it is not something I can take into account. I borrow books which I’m unwilling to pay for (either because selling price is too high, or if I’m not sure I will like the book). It’s reasonable to assume authors make less per library borrow than a sale, but there are benefits to having more readers rather than less readers. Word of mouth, sharing on Facebook & Goodreads etc. will generate more sales. And I’ve been known to buy a book that I previously borrowed from the library when the price is right.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Yes, public libraries are definitely a source of discovery! As to word of mouth (or, in the case of the sites you mentioned, what I call “word of mouse”, I used to say that new media sold e-books and mainstream media sold paperbooks. However, I think new media has become increasingly important among p-book buyers…Millenials use both. 🙂

  4. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I almost never search Google for a book, and I don’t use public libraries anymore. Everywhere I have lived since I was 5 years old, I have had a library card. But in 2004 when I moved from NH to FL, I never got around to getting one here in FL.

    The Amazon bookstore is now so good that I would be hard-pressed to find a mass market book that I’d like to read that is not in the Amazon store. When I first got a Kindle, there were only a few hundred thousand titles in Amazon’s store — so I did search in other places — not anymore.

    I doubt that I’m a typical Amazon book customer — I don’t see this affecting me at all.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Right, the Amazon store started with under 100,000 titles. I’m sure you are correct that people searched more back then, because there were fewer options directly from Amazon. People probably still search now…but for more obscure titles which the public libraries also won’t have. Well, at least that’s true for serious readers…I do think casual readers may search for something they hear mentioned somewhere and just hit Google.

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