In theory Google Book Search now allows users to download out of copyright books for nothing. In practice, it's the usual Google botched disaster that we're getting used to. The idea is sound - you can now search on all books or 'full view' books, and users can type in titles of books that are out of copyright and read them online or in some cases download the entire scanned book.
All good so far, except that it's rather difficult to find books that you can download, and if you can, they're often either so old to be illegible, or they've been badly scanned so it's almost impossible to read. (Rather hard to read a play when the first 4 or 5 characters on the left hand side of the page have been chopped off, wouldn't you agree?)
I tried some Shakespeare - I choose the Comedies and Tragedies, mainly because I didn't know if I was going to laugh or cry. I also thought that it would be interesting to compare results with the Google disaster that is Google's Shakespeare Collection. This is something that I've written about before over at SearchEngineWatch pointing out that his plays are only available in full text in some places and not others - ironically the UK is one of the places that you can't get full access via Googles collection. Anyway, I digress...
Running searches for all the plays included in my selection (23) resulted in finding 14 that I could immediately download. This included versions of plays such as King Lear, Macbeth and Hamlet, but not Two Gentlemen of Verona or the Merry Wives of Windsor. Most of the editions would have been difficult to read, to say the very least. Comparing this to the versions that I could download from the Shakespeare collection was interesting - I could download a total of 3.
So... Google lets me have 14 in one place and only 3 in another. That's not exactly the best result of the day is it? Particularly since Google justified their decision to limit Shakespeare downloads from their original collection on copyright and legal grounds. Perhaps it might be an idea for once part of Google to talk to another part, just so that they can try and get their story straight.
So... another great idea Google. Just a shame that it doesn't work properly. Still, nothing new there, eh? Oh, and while you're at it, can you get around to fixing the option of search by date, because that's still busted as well.