Google Fast Flip Expands E-Reading Horizons

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-12-17

Google Fast Flip Expands E-Reading Horizons

News Analysis: When Google launched its Google Fast Flip service for digitizing the way people read newspapers and magazines Sept. 15, it was a jarring reminder that the future of publishing, or at least the way we consume content is changing.

Web pages with publishers' articles are rendered on the Fast Flip page, where users can click on them to begin reading. Users may also scroll through scores of articles simply by clicking the mouse on up, down or side-to-side arrows.

In an hour of testing, it was fast, efficient and akin to a microfiche. It was limited to 39 publications at launch, including The new York Times, Business Week and TechCrunch.

Then I forgot about Fast Flip, and I assumed most everyone else did, too. I haven't returned to the Google Labs experiment since the day I covered it and don't know anyone else who has. It's not that it wasn't a good service, I just don't yet have a use for it.  

So it was a small surprise that Google Dec. 16 said that it had expanded its Fast Flip purview to nearly 90 titles after reaching agreements with publishers representing more than 50 newspapers, magazines, Web publications, news wires, and TV and radio broadcasters.

New partners include include Tribune Co. newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, McClatchy Company newspapers such as the Miami Herald and the Kansas City Star, the Huffington Post, Popular Science, Reuters, Public Radio International, and U.S. News & World Report.

It's not enough that Google is indexing the world's out-of-print books through its controversial Google Book Search program, or that Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook virtualize the print book reading experience on a handheld device, or that we can similarly read books from our Apple iPhones or Motorola Droid smartphones.

Fast Flip lets us read magazines and newspapers from our computers and smartphones. The mobile version of Fast Flip lets users access the service through iPhones and Android-based smartphones. This means no print publication is sacred in the new digital world.

Googles Fast Flip Floats on the Digital Sea

I asked Google how many users Fast Flip has accrued in three months. A Google spokesperson declined to provide metrics, but added:

"Fast Flip is still in Google Labs, so getting feedback and refining the product is more important to us right now than driving traffic to it. While we're still in the very early stages, we've been happy with the feedback we've received from users and publishers. So far the indications are that our thesis was right: If you make it easy for people to read news articles, they'll read more of them. We've also been testing ways we might integrate Fast Flip into Google News. We'll do that if it creates a better experience for users and publishers."

Fast Flip isn't the only service of its ilk Google is testing. The company last week launched Living Stories, an experimental news platform that streamlines news content on one page to keep users from clicking on story links that send them veering off to different destinations. 

Google Fast Flip software engineer Jack Hebert promised there is more in the Google pipeline, noting that "it's just one of many experiments you'll see us try in partnership with news publishers."

Google and publishers hope this will be an ad-dollar salve to the ailing publishing industry.

And to think that I still receive the New Yorker magazine in the mail. Does that make me old fashioned? Maybe not now, but what about in 10 years, or even 5? Will the normal way of consuming written content become antiquated by the rapid digitization of the printed word?

I remember seeing the Roman Polanski film "The Ninth Gate," based on "The Club Dumas" novel by Arturo P??«rez-Reverte.

The protagonist is a rare book hunter who tracks published tomes that are centuries old. I remember thinking that this was like a whole other world of antiquities that average Joe reader does not have access to.

How soon before today's common books are rendered similarly by the growing sea of digital ink from e-readers like the Kindle and Nook and applications like Fast Flip and Living Stories?

For better or worse, the publishing world is changing, thanks to Google, Amazon and others. Float along the tide, or get lost in this Digital Sea.

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