Google has started letting people search text within books, following similar strides from retail behemoth

The service, called Google Print Beta, lets Web surfers call up brief excerpts from books, critic reviews, bibliographic and author’s notes and, in some cases, a picture of the book jacket.

Results pages also include links to where site visitors can buy the book and related text ads from Google. Select publishers including Random House, Knopf Publishing Group, and Macfarlane, Walter & Ross are participating in the pilot program with Google.

“Google has been experimenting with a number of publishers to test their content online,” according to the company’s Web site. “During this trial, publishers’ content is hosted by Google and is ranked in our search results according to the same technology we use to evaluate Web sites.”

The trial is part of Google’s continual quest to improve search–and prove its service indispensable to Web surfers. To this end, it has unveiled technology to search for UPS package information, calculate math equations, find personal phone numbers and block pop-up ads. It has also broadly expanded its advertising program onto publisher Web pages.

The experiment comes two months after Amazon launched “Search Inside the Book,” a searchable index of millions of pages of books. Amazon’s service lets people type in keywords and receive results for all the pages and titles of various books that contain that term, and purchase books directly from the site.

The search feature works with approximately 120,000 titles from 190 publishers, which translates into some 33 million pages of searchable text.

Google’s and Amazon’s searchable book services could put the two companies on a competitive collision course.

Amazon, which licenses Google’s search technology and keyword-related ads, has been showing a greater interest in search. It recently formed–an independent unit to develop e-commerce search technology–in an attempt to gain a foothold in the lucrative market dominated by Google and Yahoo.

The new unit is charged with building a shopping search tool for internal use and for other companies. The retailer is striving to make its mark in transactions outside of the books, apparel and sporting goods sold through its online mall.

For its part, Google has reportedly been in talks with several publishers to build its service in recent months. So far, Google has made agreements that give it the ability to scan as many as 60,000 titles.

The Google Print feature works by typing in “” and any desired term into the Google search bar. For example, a query for “ dance” calls up two entries, including “The Only Dance There Is” by Ram Doss, with the tags BOOK and BETA next to them.

Google said that no money is exchanged between itself, publishers or booksellers if Web surfers buy a title as a result of the search feature. It is also not charging advertisers if visitors to the site click on the company’s ads during the trial phase, which is unspecified.

More here.