Getting the Most from
Google Preview Books

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Being able to get a free peek inside books is not a new idea. The marketing mantra behind the giant brick-and-mortar bookstores is: browsing sells books. These bookstores are designed to encourage people to hang out (music, coffee, etc.). Hanging out means browsing. Browsing means a potential sale. It's a proven formula.

Google has a book-browsing program called Google Books. Selling books, however, is not Google's the primary mission. The primary mission of Google Books is to is to provide free online access to every book that has ever been published. And in a landmark legal case, Google won a compromise that allows the search giant to provide free access to books that are still under copyright—or at least portions of them. So Google Books provides free access to the full content of a huge online librarybooks in the public domain and those having the copyright owner's permission. The truly unique part, however, is providing this kind of access to books that are still in print, including textbooks.

Of course a major textbook publisher is not going to let Google, or anyone else, make their new $220 textbook available online for anyone to use at no cost. That makes no sense. But what about making a large portion of that $220 textbook freely available for students, instructors, and educators who have the power to select the textbooks for the upcoming school year? Unlike getting a peek at a few pages with Amazon's Look Inside program, Google Books shows the book with a few pages missing. The program creates an entirely new paradigm for self education.

Yes, you will find pages missing from the Google preview books. And, alas, it often turns out that the missing pages interrupt the flow of a high-octane learning. To make things even a bit more interesting, the number of missing pages often increases with the number of pages displayed. The more you use a book the smaller it gets. Of course it can be frustrating, especially since Google isn't willing to discuss the algorithm they use for zapping those pages. But as any mature self-directed learner knows, it is better to have free access to 80% of a really good textbook than 100% of one that is out of date or so poorly written that no one would publish it.

Are you still troubled by the missing-pages thing with Google Books? Then consider the fact that there is usually more than one textbook available for the same topic. Let's say there are three of those $220 textbooks, each available in part. Between the three books, you are likely to have most of the subject content available to you. And there is the added bonus of being able to study the same topic from several different viewpoints and styles of presentation.

For a serious learner, the advantages of working with Google Books far outweigh the  annoyance of some missing pages.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015