Amazon Debuts New Book Search Tool

“Search Inside the Book” allows you to search the full-text of more than 33 million pages from over 120,000 printed books.

More than 190 publishers are participating in the program, including Wiley, Time Warner Book Group, Simon & Schuster, Inc., Random House, Inc., and many others.

Access to the full-text of 120,000 titles has enormous research and reference value. However, Amazon’s primary motivation for offering this service is to sell books. The company is calling this new service, “a significant extension” to “Look Inside the Book” service which has been online since October, 2001.

How does “Search Inside the Book” work?

The service is easy to use. Simply enter your search terms into any Amazon search box. In addition to the usual results listing authors and titles, you’ll also see short snippets labeled “excerpt from” and the hyperlinked title of the book where your search terms were found.

Click on the title link you’ll see a scanned image of the page with your search term(s) highlighted. Amazon is using optical character recognition technology to find words embedded in the scanned images.

Scanned books are fully browseable. You can move forward or backwards one page at a time using links above the page image. You can also move forward by simply clicking on the page image.

Like most search engines, Amazon uses an implied Boolean “AND” between your search terms. And although the service supports phrase searching with quotation marks, there are no advanced search capabilities or search limits. Searching for phrases is often imprecise. I ran a search for “sports broadcaster” and received many false drops.

It’s also possible to find a title and then search within it. Just look for the “search inside this book” label above the cover image of books in your search results.

Unfortunately, table of contents and index pages do not contain hyperlinks. This would have been enormously useful — perhaps we can hope to see this capability in the future.

Amazon provides a helpful overview of the service, showing how it works in step by step fashion. A more detailed FAQ is also online.

Although Amazon is the first commercial bookseller to offer a service like this, many libraries offer access to thousands of web accessible books via netLibrary. This service offers full-text searching and many other options. Ask your librarian if you have access to it. If you do, you’ll most likely be able to can access the database from ANY computer.

Ebrary is another company operating in this space. The National Academy Press continues to offer free web accessible full-text access to over 2500 titles.

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the terrific Online Books Page, maintained by the indefatigable John Mark Ockerbloom. This “page” is actually a database of more than 20,000 freely accessible online books that we wrote about last January.

The Great Library of Amazonia
To appear in Wired magazine’s upcoming December issue, 11.12

A detailed, behind the scenes look at Amazon’s Search Inside the Book program.

Publishers Grudgingly Cooperate With Amazon Database Effort
Publishers Weekly, Sept. 15, 2003

Publishers are keeping a wary eye on’s new initiative: digitizing nonfiction titles to create an online database that can be searched by keywords. The plan, first reported about in the New York Times in July, is seen as a way to draw more traffic to the Amazon site as it competes with search engines such as Google and Yahoo.

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