Inkling to Turn Google Into Storefront, Take Run at Amazon

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The most trafficked ebook store in the world today is Amazon. Very soon, that might not be the case.

Illustrated ebook store and ebook production management start-up Inkling has found a way to make Google Search a storefront for its ebooks, where readers can discover, browse and buy. It’s called the Inkling Content Discovery Platform.

“Google is now able to index the full content of our titles,” said Inkling founder and CEO Matt MacInnis, adding that readers “can buy the individual content shown or the entire book.”

The way it works is simple. Inkling has about 400 titles from publishers like Pearson, Wiley and Workman. Using its proprietary content management technology, Inkling built the titles so that each piece of content – each paragraph, image, audio clip, video, diagram and more – is tagged and searchable. That’s over 150,000 “cards,” as the company calls its discrete units of content.

Inkling has partnered with Google to have those cards live on the Web and appear in search results. A card that is a step-by-step slideshow on how to tie a pork roast should show up in a search on the topic, next to the mostly free content the Web offers. Users who click through can view the card for free as well as up to five more cards from the same work. At this point, however, they’re in the Inkling ecosystem and are being exposed to paid content – more from the same book.

Users can buy either the chapter they’re viewing (for $0.99 to $10 or more for more titles), a “unit,” or selection of chapters (usually only available in the more expensive works for $20 to $40), or an entire book ($2.99 to $200, depending on the title). Of course, they could also just view the content for free, though MacInnis still considers this a victory in the form of valuable branding.

Inkling content appearing in Google Search results.

The project has only been quietly running for six weeks but MacInnis said that he is pleased with the results, though he would not share how much traffic his new Google search store has generated or at what rate people actually buy content.

Inkling’s partners believe in the project. All of its publishing partners have signed on. And that volume of content means more fodder for Google search and, theoretically, more traffic and revenue. The company plans on adding over 1,000 more titles this fall and having “millions” of cards indexed by Google, according to a spokesperson.

“If what we’re doing is even modestly successful, it will have a real impact on Amazon,” said MacInnis. Inkling intends on taking a bite out of the world’s leading ebook retailer by catching readers as they search for topics on Google, before they go to Amazon to search for books.

In this effort, Inkling will be doing something that Amazon and other large ebook retailers have been hesitant to do: share data with publishers. Inkling intends on sharing search, conversion and reader data with publishers in the hope that they will optimize their content to perform better in search, in the store and with readers.

Also on deck for the start-up are social tools that will allow readers to share cards with each other through Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. It’s more free content given away but it’s also another set of eyeballs on what Inkling believes are the best enhanced ebooks out there.

The start-up, based in San Francisco, has about 100 employees and has been around for three years. It has raised about $30 million in funding in two rounds.

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