First published July 7, 2011 in Mediapost’s Search Insider
I just received my review copy of “I’m Feeling Lucky, The Confessions of Google Employee # 59” by Douglas Edwards. That brings to six the number of Google themed books that are sitting on my bookshelf (including one by fellow Insider Aaron Goldman).
That got me to thinking. Are six books a lot to be written about one company?
Well, it turns out that there are more than six. A quick check on Amazon turned up no less than 11 books on Google, the company. That doesn’t include the gazillions of Google-inspired how-to books. So, to return to my original question, are 11 a lot? And if they are, why do authors write about Google? What does Google have that other companies don’t? And how does the Google story stack up against other corporate sagas?
It seems Google actually heads the high-tech pack when it comes to attracting ink. Again checking Amazon, I only found one book on Yahoo and two on Facebook. There were four on Microsoft and seven books on Apple. Of all the tech companies I checked, only IBM equaled Google’s tally, at 11. Of course, IBM has been around for over 100 years, compared to less than two decades for Google.
Google even beats corporate stalwarts like GE (seven), Proctor & Gamble (three) and HP (seven).
In looking at the list, a few things immediately came to mind. First of all, many of the books written about a company are actually written about a founder or chef executive of the company. Half the books written about Microsoft are actually biographies of Bill Gates. The same is true for Apple (Steve Jobs), GE (Jack Welch) and IBM (Lou Gerstner). But none of the Google books I’ve ready are about Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They’re about the company. Certainly, Larry and Sergey have starring roles, but they don’t overshadow the company itself. Google is always front and center.
Secondly, many of the other companies that are the subject of books have gone through massive restructurings or turnarounds, which formed the central theme of the respective books. Google hasn’t hit a slump yet. There isn’t even a lot of conflict in Google’s history to chronicle. Unlike Facebook, Aaron Sorkin (who adapted Ben Mezrich’s book “The Accidental Billionaires” for the movie “The Social Network”) would have a difficult time creating a juicy script out of the Google story. It’s not nearly as “Hollywood” as Facebook’s rise to glory. And Google doesn’t generate near the animosity of a Wal-Mart (20-plus books, most of them about how the retail giant is destroying America) or Enron (the grand Champion of corporate story telling, with over 30 books, all about its ignoble collapse). So, what is it about Google that fascinates us, if it isn’t a rags to riches to rags to riches saga, an inside glimpse at an evil empire, or a superstar CEO?
All the books written about Google are generally complimentary, respectful and, in some cases, even a touch obsequious and over-enthralled. Those who choose to write about Google generally fawn all over the company, the brilliance of the co-founders, the velocity of its growth and the vibrancy of its culture. If there is muck to rake here, potential authors have yet to uncover it. The only other company I’ve found that even comes close to inspiring the sycophantic awe of Google is Disney, with over 20 titles, the majority of them complimentary.
I think the Google story has appeal because Google is something we all use. In many ways, the story of Google is the story of Web search (John Battelle’s approach) — and that has changed our lives in some pretty fundamental ways. It’s Google’s role as a catalyst of change — in how we think about information, in marketing, in how companies conduct themselves, and in a number of yet-to-be determined ways — that compel us to keep turning the pages. This isn’t a story about a company, or a brilliant founder. It’s a story about a society balanced on the cusp of dramatic and massive change. Google is just the narrative framework many have chosen as the vehicle for their social parable.
Really, if you were going to write a book about search and how it’s changing our world, whom else would you write about?