Amazon Book Search

I think that Amazon has finally come through with the next on-line bookstore killer app. They’ve extended their book searching to include a “Search Inside the Book” feature which returns books which contain your search phrase somewhere in the text, along with a page image of the page in question and two pages on either side of that page. They only provide the service for selected books who have approved this useage, but it’s a great idea. They’ve been trying to give browsers “flip through the book” capabilities by giving excerpt pages, but for non-fiction, this is the type of browsing people really do in bookstores.
I am curious how many books they’ll be able to continue to sign up into the program. If it really increases sales for the books that sign up, it could happen. On the down side, if you type in the right search phrases, you can get Amazon to give you the page images for basically an entire book. I tried the query “neural networks”, and they linked to a $62.95 book called Applying Neural Networks: A Practical Guide which had given permission to be used in “search inside”. Because you can view not just pages with the search term on it, but also adjacent pages up to two away, they offered me links to page views of pages 1 through 71 inclusive, picking up again to give pages 77 through 129, then pages 132 through 148, at which point I gave up checking page runs. In total, they directly linked to 222 of the 303 pages in the book as having the search term on it. And one can easily fill in gaps by taking a page adjacent to the gap, picking a search term from that page, and searching on it. In other words, if you’re willing to do a little work, you can get the entire text of any “search inside” book off of Amazon.
Now, it’s probably not worth it for a regular reader. But if you’re a college student being asked to buy an expensive textbook, and you only intend to refer to it for the main figures or equations (and isn’t that the case for a lot of technical textbooks…), this would be a very tempting alternative. You don’t have to rely on a library reserve copy – you can just sit in your room and pull up Amazon to look at that page with the algorithm you need on it. If it’s really key, you can save it and print it for later.
Frankly, the more I think about it, the more surprised I am that any publishers went along with this.