Google Book Search, Google Print, The Plot Comes Together

December 1st, 2006 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

If you didn’t realize that Google was moving toward a paid content model with its various book initiatives, you haven’t been paying attention. Though the news has apparently just crossed the Atlantic Ocean, this goal was made clear at this year’s BEA (and, well, should have been obvious to everyone from the beginning).

While publishers and authors continue to take the litigation route, Google is moving forward with plans to sell digitized content. This is great news for those publishers who are seeing increased interest in their products. This is also great news for consumers who can’t get access to the books they want or need in any other way.

We’ve never been clear on why there is so much opposition to this project. Yes, we understand the righteous copyright issues. What we don’t understand is what publishers and authors are doing instead. Over and over and over again, we hear that Google’s book initiatives are wrong. We hear that digitization is the way of the future. What we don’t hear is a plan from the industry. How are they going to get the content to the people seeking it? Wouldn’t it make sense to work with the search engines to make sure your products can be found?

Especially as the potential for long-tail revenue inches closer to reality. Google has been eyeing several business models: renting content, excerpted content, and full content downloads. Oh sure, there are a lot of gray areas here. Very few author agreements (if any at all) contemplate the rental mode or even the excerpt mode. How do you account for this stuff? Rather than working to ensure that nobody will read copyrighted works, would it make more sense for the Author’s Guild to raise consciousness among its members about these exciting new possibilities — and for the Guild to start public dialogues with publishers to ensure that authors are paid fairly for their share of these revenues?

There are also bugs to work out regarding the orphaned works that litter the publishing field. You know, those books that don’t quite have a publisher anymore, but aren’t in the public domain yet. Or maybe those books whose authors have disappeared from the face of the earth (do not for a moment doubt that this happens — people move, they forget to send change-of-address cards, eventually the mail gets returned to the sender).

So anyway, where were we before we we got distracted? Ah yes, we remain perplexed by the adversarial position of the publishing industry to Google’s programs. Even if the industry decides it’s going to forge ahead and digitize everything and make it available…there remains the problem of actually finding the content. You don’t have to spend more than two minutes browsing publisher websites to know that usability is the last thing anyone considered during the development (if it was considered at all, and we have our doubts). We cannot fathom how the industry expects the public to find interesting, useful, or even obscure texts without making use of the major search engines (all of them, natch). Does anyone really expect the average American citizen to know that Book A was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1956, but the rights were then acquired by, oh, Kensington in 1975 only to be resold to, oh, Dalkey in 2006? Or that rights to Book B have been happily held by Random House since the beginning of time?

How will the average citizen find the strings of text in these books that will lead to eventual purchases without the search engines? These are not idle questions we’re asking — and the fact that so few have answers in this day and age makes us nervous. Especially since new potential sources of revenue, new ways to make money for authors and publishers, are coming online. Now.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

2 responses so far ↓

  • meika // Dec 1, 2006 at 6:09 pm

    And that whole ISBN needs re-thinking too designed as it was for distribution channels, and that bowker rent-taking monopoly on issuing ISBNs needs total removal,
    something like the, only re-jigged somewhat , would be a much better idea.

    the ISBN system needs some sort of Author number added, especially as in the future we all become self-publishers, just going up to 13 numbers is not enough.

  • Andrew W // Dec 4, 2006 at 8:06 am

    Academic publishers have discovered great success in being included in Google Book Search. I think it was someone from Kluwer who reported that for the first time in their history that this year they had sold at least one copy of every journal they’d ever published.

    For the rights issue you bring up—every right not explicitly outlined in a contract still belongs to the author. Which could make things messy.

    You know what another huge challenge is going to be? What if Google Book Search greatly increases demand for obscure texts without a commensurate improvement in/acceptance of digital reader technology? Publishers will have an enormous warehousing problem facing them as they try to gauge what single copies of fifty-year-old books they should keep in stock. Consumers would be more likely to then buy a used copy from Amazon, meaning the publisher wouldn’t see a cut, meaning the publisher would be less amenable to Google Book Search in the first place.