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To fight Amazon’s “black box,” iPad publisher Inkling opens its 400 ebooks up to Google

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Typing a book’s title into Google is easy — and the first result you’ll probably get is its Amazon product page. Google (s GOOG) 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 (s AAPL) 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 (s AMZN) 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” (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.

Inkling Google screenshot 2

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 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,” 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.

8 Responses to “To fight Amazon’s “black box,” iPad publisher Inkling opens its 400 ebooks up to Google”

  1. I think it’s so cute when people think there are other companies out there who can challenge Amazon. Not even Google has the power to take them down. This “war” was lost a long time ago.

  2. Why is there not even one link to Inkling in this article?

    Stop linking to your own posts and forget about the self-reinforcing SEO benefits of linking to your own web properties.

    It would be in the readers best interest.

  3. jbnemeth

    Inkling’s Content Discovery Platform (ICDP) should raise red flags for anyone concerned with the finer points of online discovery. Both Google Books and Scribd (among other services) will fully index your books to aid in serendipitous and targeted discovery. Unlike Inkling, Google Books will offer a multitude of purchasing options on their book detail pages. How many people are actually look for Inkling editions? If Inkling attains first-level rankings for long-tail search phrases, this could hurt sales because customers will find themselves on Inkling book pages instead of the detail pages of other, more popular and relevant channels/platforms.

    Exact title searches are another thing. Those customers are looking for a specific book. More often than not an Amazon page will show up first for a title search because that’s where most people want to buy their books online. Publishers are generally okay with this as long as a sale is made (and for McInnis to demonize Amazon over this is unfair–it’s about relevancy for the customer). It’s unlikely Inkling will ever best Amazon in book title searches, but they’re already jumping in ahead of B&N and other high-volume retailers (try searching “Alaska Day by Day”). Do publishers actually want to hurt B&N’s chances of making a sale just to help out Inkling’s search rankings? And how long will it be before Amazon bites back by opening their own indexed content or limiting this kind of thing contractually?

    My advice to publishers: get your books indexed by Google, focus on your metadata, and forget about Inkling until, and if, they gain market relevancy.

  4. ricdesan

    Hey publishers, through your greed and hubris you built the Amazon “black box,” So now that you have decided to play nice after the DOJ spanked you, you think consumers will conveniently forget about all that!

  5. Michael W. Perry

    Authors who’re looking for ways to make their ebooks visible in Google can distribute some versions though Smashwords. Its ebooks are visible to Google’s roving robots.

  6. Such initiatives to “disintermediate” Amazon are slowly emerging. One of them recently written up in Forbes is Publit out of Sweden. Finally authors and publishers are pulling their collective heads out of the sand of denial to shake off the stranglehold Amazon has over the industry.
    Why bother with agency model, wholesale model etc. when all that is needed is a platform to host the content, manage DRM, process payment and advertise/promote etc. and receive realtime market intelligence as gravy. Besides Publit-like platforms, the publishers and authors could establish their own collaborative eBook portal and simply pay commissions to sales coming from affiliate’s referral links from specialist book review sites similar to movie review sites Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes. And if only the industry promotes the development of generic, commodity e-reader devices using an open format like ePub and figure out a way to subsidize or pretty much give it away, it will liberate themselves and the readers from the walled gardens of Kindle and iBooks and shift the paradigm to “Content is King” rather that the yoke of “Platform is King” they squirm under. Hope the day will come soon when eBook distribution is done on a “Marketplace” model sponsored by neutral, non-competing platforms like Ebay, Facebook, Publit etc.
    eBay and Facebook would be good, familiar, agnostic platforms that publishers and authors can embrace as an alternative to conflicted platforms like Amazon, Google and iTunes. And a partnership with sites like GoodReads for reviews and discovery would dovetail with such a Direct-to-Customer platform. Ebay is doing something similar with general merchandise with its acquisition of GSI Commerce and their “Stores” platform for Brands and Retailers.

  7. David Thomas

    Yes! Bravo Inkling! This is the choice path — and for all the right reasons: the market data publisher’s need to get every published book reach its maximum audience size.

    Btw, that Ginger Cranberry Fig Chutney looks really good.