Typing a book’s title into Google is easy — and the first result you’ll probably get is its Amazon product page. Google isn’t a very good method of book discovery: search for a topic like “how to choose wine” and while you’ll get plenty of results, none of them will be from a book. That is now changing: iOS publishing platform Inkling will allow its roughly 400 titles, which are available for iPad, iPhone and the web, to be fully indexed through Google search, the San Francisco-based company announced Wednesday.
Inkling says the launch of its “Content Discovery Platform” is a way for publishers to make their ebooks “more discoverable and profitable.” The company also wants to reduce readers’ reliance on Amazon as a tool for book discovery. “Amazon has way too much market power,” Inkling founder Matt MacInnis told me. “They control the discoverability of consumer content. They end up making or breaking a project for a publisher.”
Inkling is fighting back not by trying to “build a storefront overnight that is another Amazon.com” (though the company does sell its titles online) but by making all of its ebooks completely searchable through Google. When a user clicks on an Inkling Google search result, the relevant part of the book opens in Inkling’s web-based reader. The user can then preview the ebook’s content (up to five clicks are free), buy it in chunks or buy the whole book. The company is bullish on selling ebooks by the piece because it primarily works with publishers of practical nonfiction — cookbooks, travel guides and how-to books, along with textbooks — that can be chunked easily. In a version to be rolled out in a few weeks, users will be able to tweet the content and share it on Facebook.
You probably recall that Google has tried to harness the power of book search before — and, in MacInnis’s phrasing, “got its face sued off” because it tried to do so without the permission of publishers and authors. (Check out my colleague Jeff John Roberts’ ebook on the Google books lawsuit and settlement.) But Inkling has secured all of the rights it needs to make books indexable on Google. Client publishers include O’Reilly, Wiley, Workman and Pearson. HarperCollins will soon make some of its titles available on the platform, and MacInnis said that Inkling is either in negotiations or has signed contracts with the remaining big-six publishers. In addition to the 400 titles available on the platform now, the company says it will add about a thousand more over the next year.
MacInnis described Amazon as a “black box” that doesn’t give publishers data on how their books are being discovered. He also claims that Inkling’s Google initiative will bring publishers new readers. “We’re going to bring people in before they ever get to Amazon,” he said, claiming that “the vast majority of people who buy content on Amazon are just disgruntled Google users” who couldn’t find the book content they needed from a search engine. Amazon is also working to improve its own search, of course, and a search performed on Amazon.com will also scan the contents of books for which publishers have enabled the “Look Inside the Book” feature. But Inkling is structuring its content for Google search, which it says will provide better and more useful search results.
Of course, for Inkling to draw any users away from Amazon, it has to make sure its content is rising to the top of Google search results. MacInnis said that will happen because Inkling’s content is high-quality and ad-free, delivering “higher search happiness” that users will reward with clicks. But “we have to do a lot of work over time to establish domain relevance for Inkling.com,” he said, “and establish rank for key titles and key components of titles that we think will drive sales.”
Inkling has raised over $30 million in funding from backers including Sequoia Capital.