Google the Trailblazer

I believe in Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) . Specifically, I believe in the company's famed 10-point philosophy, which includes zingers like "you can make money without doing evil," "great just isn't good enough," and "focus on the user and all else will follow." Call me a blue-eyed optimist, but I believe that Google actually wants to make the world a better place. It's not all about the money.

That's why I'm nodding along as I read co-founder Sergey Brin's New York Times op-ed on Google Books. Brin goes back 10 years to explain how the seeds of this service were sown by fellow founder Larry Page, and then nearly 100 years to show how old, out-of-print books can be useful today, way down the line. Google Books has been under fire from groups of authors, publishers, and even libraries since it got off the ground, but just settled a four-year-old lawsuit to set some standards for digital libraries going forward.

In the op-ed, Brin notes that Google's settlement with the Authors Guild and Publishers Guild is not exclusive. Others may follow Google's lead to sign their own digitizing deals, and some might do a better job of it than Google. And that is A-OK with Brin. "I wish there were a hundred services" like this, he writes. Nobody has blazed this trail before, because making digital copies of every book in the world is a massive and expensive undertaking. But Google is happy to get the ball rolling, even at great expense.

Why? Because if you're looking for an old book today, you don't have a lot of options. "The agreement limits consumer choice in out-of-print books about as much as it limits consumer choice in unicorns," Brin says. Copyright holders are often hard to find, and the physical artifact is vulnerable to floods, fires, and simply fading into obscurity once its bookstore shelf-life runs out.

So Google is doing its best to save old books from oblivion, possibly paving the way for competitors like Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS  ) , Borders (NYSE: BGP  ) , Books-A-Million (Nasdaq: BAMM  ) , or Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) to do something better. Not that Google isn't working hard to make back some of this investment, because it is. It's just that Brin and Page have convinced me that they're serious about using Google as a tool to improve the world. This is simply another piece of evidence to that effect.

And all else will follow, including serious profits.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares in Google, but he holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He really is a blue-eyed, 6'5" Viking with a master's degree in library science. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Amazon.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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