We knew that the beta of Google Book Search really was, for once, just a beta version of a much grander project. Now we know what that project is. BusinessWeek is reporting that Google has disclosed to publishers its intentions to expand its Book Search beyond a mere search and preview service into one where users will be able to purchase access to entire copies of books, and possibly download them to other devices.
There are, however, some roadblocks. Reaching agreements with the publishers themselves is naturally the most pressing issue in terms of acquiring content to sell, but we'll wager it's an issue not far from resolution, given Google's public disclosure of their plans. The book industry writ large, however, is obviously uneasy about the kind of access and distribution Google looks to bring to book content — the Authors Guild lawsuit against Google mentioned in the article makes this clear.
It's debatable, though whether relatively mediocre digital book sales are a content issue or a hardware issue — will more (and better) books that are more easily accessible fuel sales or do we have to wait for the "iPod device of the book"? It looks like time — and Google — will tell.