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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Rebecca Roberts.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Google is a company that does things in a big way, and in 2004, been announced one of its most ambitious projects ever. It said it wanted to digitize all the books in the world and make them available to its users online. The idea provoked lawsuits by publishers and authors groups who said it violated their copyrights.

Well, since then, Google has managed to digitize more than a million books, and some publishers now say the project is good for business.

NPR's Jim Zarroli has the story.

JIM ZARROLI: For the publishing industry, Book Expo in New York is a biennial spring ritual. Librarians, bookstore owners and publishers of every size come to the Javits Convention Center to see what's happening in the book business.

At this year's convention - which ended yesterday - established companies like HarperCollins and Barnes & Noble found themselves sharing the floor with a relative newcomer, Google Book Search.

Mr. ADAM SMITH (Product Manager, Google Book Search): One of the things you really realize early on this project is there's lots of great information on the Web, but books were missing.

ZARROLI: Adam Smith manages Google Book Search.

Mr. SMITH: And in order to really create a comprehensive search index, we thought it was very important that the world books are also searched when a user comes to Google.

ZARROLI: Smith and other Google employees have camped out here to show people how Book Search works. He types into a laptop.

Mr. SMITH: Here, you type in "Moby Dick" in Google, and you'll see next to this word - Web, there is a book link. And in this case, you have access to a public domain copy of the book, where you can see the book in its entirety. If you're interested, you could also download a copy or you…

ZARROLI: Nineteen-point-three megabytes, right?

Mr. SMITH: It's a very long book.

ZARROLI: But Smith says books are just about more than downloading old books. When Book Search was unveiled three years ago, it was portrayed in the press as a kind of rapacious monster, giving books away online and playing havoc with the publishing industry's economic model.

Today, there are more than a million books on Book Search - histories, biographies, novels, even textbooks. But Smith says unlike "Moby Dick", most of the books on Book Search are still under copyright, which means the company can only show a portion of them. That hasn't stopped the Author's Guild and a major publisher's group from suing Google for copyright infringement. But even as these suits have winded their way through the courts, Google has been reaching out to individual publishers.

In many cases now, Google displays a portion of a book with a link, allowing a reader to buy the entire text. Evan Schnittman of Oxford University Press says it's been a great way to reaching in readers.

Mr. EVAN SCHNITTMAN (Vice President, Business Development and Rights, Oxford University Press): Three hundred and twenty-one thousand times in the last year and a half or so - two and a half years - people have clicked on an Oxford book saying, I want to buy this, which is a really, really, really important thing for us, our authors, you know, the state of publishing. And we spent nothing to do that. That's why we're a big fan of this program.

ZARROLI: But for other publishers, the program generates more questions than answers. Kate Tentler of Simon & Schuster says it's hard to say how much the program has affected sales.

Ms. KATE TENTLER (Senior Vice President of Digital Media, Simon & Schuster): I can see that when somebody comes from Google Book Search, they are more likely to buy that book than someone who'd came through just Google or MSN. But is that a sale that's living from some place else? I don't really know. It's hard to say it's already incremental.

ZARROLI: But Simon & Schuster still participates in Book Search, asking more than 10,000 other publishers. As Book Search has grown, it's also faced more competition. Random House now has an online book site of its own, and now, Microsoft had started its own service called Live Book Search.

Google could end up transforming the way people buy books, but it's not going to do so without a fight.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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