One of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) most controversial initiatives has been the digitizing of books online, which has more often than not had publishers up in arms. Up until now, Google Books only showed short snippets of books that Internet users could search online, but this week, it launched a service that allows users to download some books to their computers.

It's not quite as revolutionary as it may sound. The only books available for download are those that are in the public domain, so Google isn't violating copyright laws by giving people access to these freebies in their entirety. And of course, considering the fact that it often takes decades for books to enter the public domain, there's an emphasis on classics here.

Google Books gives Internet users many options when they're searching for books. They can download the book (again, as long as it's in the public domain and has been digitized by Google), click on links to buy the book from online retailers, discover whether the book is in a local library, and search the book.

Which brings us to the question of whether the free and full availability of digital versions of some classics stands to threaten publishers or bookstores like (NASDAQ:AMZN), Borders (NYSE:BGP), or Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS). I can't imagine it would -- not yet, anyway. Digital books, or e-books, have been slower to catch on than other forms of media like music; most people would rather read short and sweet content online. Even though Google allows users to download PDF files of the applicable books, which they can then print out, the idea of downloading an entire book and then printing it out seems like a hassle that only a diehard (with a formidable supply of paper) would undertake. (It's also worthwhile to note that Amazon has been offering reduced-price digital texts to go with its physical books.)

That's not to say that the landscape might not change, especially if there are increased technological options that nudge digital books into the mainstream. Sony (NYSE:SNE) seeks to make digital books easier to digest with its Sony Reader device, which seems as if it would be a heck of a lot easier than reading a book on a computer or printing out hundreds of pages.

For now, though, Google's bookish innovation may seem like an impressive tool, and it definitely speaks to the company's search-centric mission of organizing the world's information. But from an investing point of view, how it will help the top or bottom line is a little harder to quantify. When it comes to Google's financial outlook, is this another product "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"? (Thank you, Google Books, for the public domain version of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, although admittedly "sound and fury" might be a bit of an exaggeration.) At any rate, when it comes to Google's many ancillary products and services, investors are obviously dying to know how such stories will end.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.