Google made its first appearance at Book Expo America (BEA), the publishing industry's top annual showcase and networking conference, to promote its controversial Google Print venture.

Google Print is currently in beta, but the service went live in October and began accepting submissions. Google's goal is to extend its information organising ethos to the offline world by offering searchable copies of as many books as possible. A publishers' program solicits commercial books, while Google's Library Project is working with five major libraries to scan their collections and make portions of them available to web surfers.

Digital copies of creative works are an intellectual property rights minefield. Google has attracted protest from groups including the Association of American University Presses, which views the Library Project as a potentially massive copyright infringement.

Unsurprisingly, Google was eager to spread the word at BEA about its tactics for protecting intellectual property. For example, only tiny snippets — no more than a few lines — of Library Project books still in copyright will be revealed to web surfers. Greater access is granted to books submitted by publishers, with several pages viewable at a time, but Google's software blocks users from seeing more than 20 percent of any individual work.

Karawynn Long, Publisher for Per Aspera Press, stopped by the Google’s booth to enrol several books from her Seattle small press, which focuses on speculative fiction. She decided the exposure Google offers is worth any risks involved in giving potential readers an advance peek.

"For our type of book, literary fiction, I don't think there's much in the way of cons," Long said. "I can see it being different for other types of books — cookbooks, for example."

But not all of the publishers were won over. Paul Krupin, a Kennewick, Washington-based publisher and writer of business books, said he won't be enrolling his books in the service.

"A lot of authors are uncomfortable with it," Krupin said. "If people are seeing the actual content, they may not make the same buying decision. All of us are up in the air about how much you can give to the public before it hurts you."

The service could be useful as a marketing tool, Krupin said, but he's uncomfortable with surrendering so much control over how users view the books he publishes.

Google's Print initiative is the most ambitious project of its kind yet attempted. If it's successful, future web surfers will be able to retrieve excerpts of best sellers like The Da Vinci Code through, along with copies of 1924's True Stories of Pioneer Life from the Bangor Public Library in Maine.