Live Book Search versus Book Search: The Differences Are…

March 7th, 2007 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

We realize that many of you think that Booksquare is a well-oiled, well-planned, and well-considered machine. Some of you may even be under the impression that we plan our posts in advance. That is untrue. Most days we wake with a vague notion of maybe writing something brilliant. Most days, we end up erring on the side of stark horror and fear of unpopularity and publish drivel.

“…despite all of our best efforts, a book or software product can still fall flat in the market…”

This means that if you ever have the misfortune of finding yourself stuck in conversation with us, nothing will be planned. We like to think we outline the wittier of remarks in advance, but mostly we punt. That doesn’t mean that planning and foresight do not impress us. In fact, even though we don’t fully understand how it’s possible, we admire those who publish their remarks in advance. It seems that a speech should be, oh, spontaneous. Like if a laugh line naturally leads to another laugh line. If the mind wanders to an unrelated topic and rambling ensues. If the audience nods off and it’s obvious that another approach is required.

This is our way of expressing our heartfelt admiration for Thomas C. Rubin, Associate General Counsel for Copyright, Trademark and Trade Secrets, Microsoft Corporation. He not only delivered a speech entitled “Searching for Principles: Online Services and Intellectual Property”, but he also published what he was going to say in advance. We are in awe…and we have a few quibbles with Mr. Rubin’s statement. And more than a few points of agreement. If only his speech to the Association of American Publishers had been a debate. A debate in writing. We remain of the species who always thinks of the clever comebacks long after it is appropriate.

However, you aren’t here to work through our issues. You’re hear to read what Mr. Rubin said to the AAP, probably because you couldn’t be bothered to attend this year’s conference. We understand.

Thomas C. Rubin: “…this issue is one that I’ve thought about and grappled with for most of the past decade from Microsoft’s dual perspectives as a technology innovator and a major content owner.”

Booksquare: Content owner? Oh, he must mean the particularly unhelpful help pages. We still can’t figure out how to make links in Word or Excel documents not actually link to anything. Sometimes you want your spreadsheet to function as an address book, not a conduit to a website.

TCR: “We both understand the time and commitment it takes to develop the first germ of an idea into a finished work. More importantly, we both understand the risk it involves – that despite all of our best efforts, a book or software product can still fall flat in the market.”

BS: [Must resist urge to make joke about the Zune]

TCR: “However, the reality, as many of you know, is that authors and publishers often find it difficult just to cover their costs, let alone make a profit, in this new online world. At the same time, companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the backs of other people’s content, are raking in billions through advertising revenue and IPOs.”

BS: He’s talking about Google here, because, well, as a search engine, Google doesn’t so much create content as it does aggregate content in ways that make it easy for people to find said content. Ads support this service. This is similar to how Microsoft’s own search product works. At the risk of oversimplifying, a “crawler” goes out and eats content, digests it, and then regurgitates it based on weird criteria created by people who are “searching” for things. Like, well, it’s scary what people seek online. You should be looking at the person next to you with appropriate fear and loathing. Mostly loathing.

TCR: “What path will we as a society choose in making the world’s books and publications available online? Will we choose a path that nourishes creativity and innovation over the long term and that preserves incentives for authors to offer their best works online? Or will we choose a path that encourages companies simply to “take” the works of others, without any regard for copyright or the impact of their actions on authors and publishers too?”

BS: We’re guessing this is what they call an “applause line”. We learned about this from watching presidential speeches. Also, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tony Danza giving away trips at a certain motion picture studio’s holiday party. We didn’t win, and we’ve sort of held that against Tony Danza ever since.

Seriously, who wouldn’t applaud this line? It sounds just grand. But what does it mean? No, really. What does it mean? Are they saying that Google is encouraging piracy? Them sounds like fighting words.

TCR:”At its soul, Microsoft is an innovation company, and we’ve been working hard for many years to develop innovative technologies that allow readers to experience books online in new and exciting ways. In a moment I’ll describe a few of those latest innovations. I’ll also underscore how our efforts are intended to boost your ability to cost-effectively market your works, which is one of the great benefits of online search.”

BS: Not said: this is also pretty much the same model being employed by Google. You’ll simply type a different URL into your address bar. But that’s another topic for another day.

TCR: “The first principle is that new services that expand online access to content should be encouraged. The second principle is that those new services must respect the legitimate interests of copyright holders; put conversely, we must forcefully reject any business model that is based on the systematic infringement of copyrights. The third principle is that even as we follow the first two principles, we must all work together to find consumer-friendly and cost-effective solutions to our shared goal of expanding online access to copyrighted and public-domain works.”

BS: A + B ≠ C. Necessarily. Something’s gotta give. Trust us.

TCR: “Microsoft currently has two publication-focused search products in test, or what we call “beta,” right now.”

BS: Because there’s no way you’d know what beta means. Just an aside, since when do people from the General Counsel’s office address publishers? Isn’t that just plain weird? Or is this a cynical way of suggesting that one company is playing the legal sandbox while another, well, isn’t?

TCR: “The second source is our Publisher program, under which we receive books still under copyright from publishers with their express permission, either in digital form directly from the publisher, or scanned from hard copy.”

BS: [Very excited that Microsoft is now taking digital copies of books. That whole “we must scan what you give us” thing felt very nineties to us.]

TCR: “Several major publishers have signed on to the Publisher Program. Others, however, prefer to create their own digital repositories of their books. For those publishers, we’ve been working with them and the AAP to develop a seamless interface between Live Search and their own repositories. We think this interface is a tremendously important technology, both for publishers and consumers. It allows publishers to maintain control over their content and to pursue whatever business model they choose, while at the same time making their publications “searchable” by consumers through the Live Search Books engine.”

BS: Who? What publishers. Enquiring minds really want to know because, if this is executed as presented, it could be really cool. However, we tend to be skeptical of these type of announcements because, well, reality and fantasy worlds are often mutually exclusive. Sad but true.

Also, we believe that Google has similar initiatives, though the execution might be slightly different.

TCR: “One of my favorite examples is the collaboration between Microsoft and The New York Times to create the Times Reader. Times Reader is a technology that combines the readability and portability of the printed New York Times newspaper – the hardcopy, if you will – with the interactivity and immediacy of the Web. Rather than read an article by endlessly scrolling down a web page, readers enjoy a column-oriented layout that mimics the printed page. Rather than a generic font, the actual New York Times fonts appear on the screen. These innovations allow online readers to enjoy many of the same positive experiences they have as readers of the print edition.”

BS: While making the actual reading of articles more irritating due to the “continued on page A-99” syndrome suffered by newspapers. New media, new ways to present content.

TCR: “The stated goal of Google’s Book Search project is to make a copy of every book ever published and bring it within Google’s vast database of indexed content. While Google says that it doesn’t currently intend to place ads next to book search results, Google’s broader business model is straightforward – attract as many users as possible to its site by providing what it considers to be “free” content, then monetize that content by selling ads.”

BS: What? Someone thought Google was running a charity? It’s called “return on investment”. You cannot tell us that Microsoft isn’t looking for the same thing. All those shareholders and whatnot expect this. It might even be a law in some states.

Again, we’d remind publishers that Google — and Microsoft — are doing something that the publishing houses should have started years ago. Around the time the first scanning technologies became available. This playing catch-up is expensive.

TCR: “Google’s chosen path would no doubt allow it to make more books searchable online more quickly and more cheaply than others, and in the short term this will benefit Google and its users. But the question is, at what long-term cost? In my view, Google has chosen the wrong path for the longer term, because it systematically violates copyright and deprives authors and publishers of an important avenue for monetizing their works. In doing so, it undermines critical incentives to create.”

BS: Ah, we believe this is what is known as a legless, armless argument. As in, you be bad, but I’m not going to say why. “More cheaply”? Like offering search results for free? That is cheap. Also the general rule of public search. Sure, you pay through the nose for Lexis-Nexis, but Microsoft doesn’t seem to be suggesting that they’re going with that model.

We might, given enough wine, see merit in the argument that copyright is violated, provided that we also buy into the notion that other venues that offer full text “searches” of content before purchase (bookstores, for example) might also violate a sort of copyright. Yes, a ridiculous argument, a silly argument, but, let’s be honest, if you can’t browse, how do you decide to buy? Oh, yeah, word-of-mouth. Limited application.

It is very important that publishers understand one thing: moving to a digital world should not be an excuse to take access away from readers. Protecting copyright should not trump allowing consumers to make informed purchasing choices.

As for not providing avenues for monetizing — and that’s really what we’re talking about here, isn’t it? — wow, so many options, so little space. We have the rest of the speech to peruse. However, we will note links to bookstores and the still-nascent (or in the thinking stage) e-books model (or excerpt model). Just two potential moneymakers. In fact, the moneymaking model is what Google’s program is all about. As is Microsoft’s.

TCR: “From the perspective of your business, Google’s approach is troubling for another reason. It assumes, in effect, that Google is the only game in town. Google argues that authors and publishers should simply notify Google if they want to preserve their rights in their works. But what if, as is inevitable, other companies around the world start taking the same approach? Should copyright owners be obligated to track down everyone engaging in unauthorized copying in order to preserve their exclusive rights in their works? Presumably, the desire to preserve these rights is why they asserted copyright in the first place. This approach would be absolutely unworkable in practice, which is probably why Congress in enacting the Copyright Act placed the burden on those who want to copy to get the express consent of the copyright owner, rather than the other way around.

In essence, Google is saying to you and to other copyright owners: “Trust us – you’re protected. We’ll keep the digital copies secure, we’ll only show snippets, we won’t harm you, we’ll promote you.” But Google’s track record of protecting copyrights in other parts of its business is weak at best. Anyone who visits YouTube, which Google purchased last year, will immediately recognize that it follows a similar cavalier approach to copyright. Since YouTube’s inception, television companies, movie studios and record labels have all complained that the site knowingly tolerates piracy. In the face of YouTube’s refusal to take any effective action, copyright owners have now been forced to resort to litigation. And Google has yet to come up with a plan to restrain the massive infringements on YouTube.”

BS: It is a mistake for the publishing industry to think anyone is the messiah. Lots of games in town. Do not put all your eggs in one basket, as they say. Doing so is a big mistake.

Also, technically, copyright is governed by the Constitution, as enforced by Congress. They have, sure, messed with copyright, mostly because Mickey Mouse must be protected. The purpose of copyright has its roots in quid pro quo — we will protect your works for a (very) limited time; you will repay society by putting your work into the public domain. You get something, you give something. In many ways, the original purpose of copyright protection has been lost. Content is simply too valuable to meet the vision of the Founding Fathers.

Ah yes, we quibble. There are valid arguments about copyright violations and fair use and limits. Those are still being worked out, both in law and in the court of public opinion. Do not discount the public — they have seen their Constitutional promise eroded over time.

Seriously, if we’re going to have this argument, at least air all viewpoints.

TCR: “First, in order to promote innovation and online access, we need to figure out ways to reduce transaction costs of negotiations between online service providers and copyright owners.”

BS: Amen, brother!

TCR: “Second, we need to preserve the benefits of the Internet’s global reach. While online service providers must be mindful of the territorial rights of publishers, we all need to recognize that enforcing these rights in an online environment adds enormous complexity and cost.”

BS: Dude, good luck with this audience. You think sisters squabbling over who stepped on whose side of the room are tedious? Talk territorial rights with publishers.

TCR: “Third, we need to address the orphan works issue, an important issue that I have supported in testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. Online providers should make diligent efforts to locate copyright owners, but when they cannot locate the owner, there must be a process or a safety net by which they can move forward without risk of liability beyond payment of a reasonable royalty if the copyright holder later makes herself known.”

BS: And another amen! This is a really important, serious issue. If the publishing industry wants to prove it’s serious about copyright, addressing this issue is paramount. How can we have an intelligent discussion about copyright and rights when the entire infrastructure gives murky a good name. There is no good way to determine the ins and outs of rights ownership. You have registered owners, you have licenses here and there, you have deaths and transfers of copyright. Who, might we ask, is tracking all this mess?

Maybe a better question might be: how many returned royalty statements are piling up around publishing houses (or even motion pictures studios) because copyright owners simply disappear?

And yet it is expected that Google (or even Microsoft, in all fairness) find the copyright owners in order to conduct business. This is not a straightforward process; in many ways, the complexities of rights ownership support Google’s approach. The audit trail simply doesn’t exist. If the publishing industry wants to make its case, then the publishing industry should do its job when it comes to clarifying rights ownership.

Also authors. Ain’t nobody getting off for free here. Authors need to do records updates with their publishing houses.

TCR: “Fourth, and critically, we need to understand and address consumer expectations. For example, most consumers now expect to preview content before they buy it, and this needs to be taken into account in the digital world. DRM tools and other technical restrictions need to be adopted carefully so that they do not frustrate consumers’ legitimate experiences and expectations, or else you risk losing the vast new market that’s before you.”

BS: We could not say it better. Well, we could and have. But no point in repeating ourself.

TCR: “Finally, all of us need to be open to adjusting our business models to add value for the book customer.”

BS: This means many things to many people. The key is that if you take the fourth point above to heart, this final point will come naturally.

In our never humble opinion, there isn’t much difference in the goals of Microsoft and Google. It’s all about money and eyeballs. Publishers and authors, however, need to think beyond this guy versus that guy and consider both money and eyeballs. Especially eyeballs, because the money will follow. As long as consumers have options, the publishing industry needs options. One size will never fit all.

Thank you. We’ll be here the same time next year.

[tags]microsoft, google, publishing, copyright, book search, live book search[/tags]

File Under: Our Continuing Fascination With Copyright · The Future of Publishing

2 responses so far ↓

  • Philistine // Mar 11, 2007 at 11:47 am

    I was at the AAP meeting where Mr. Rubin delivered this address. Apart from the delicious irony (about which Mr. Rubin seemed to be clueless) of Microsoft’s pretending to be pure as the driven snow, it was as vicious an attack on a competitor as I’ve ever seen in a public forum outside a political campaign.

    Let’s not pretend that either google or MS has publishers or customers in mind except as it affects their respective profit models. I have no objection to that approach to business, but for AAP to have provided a forum for Rubn’s self righteous blather was, at least to this participant, shameful.

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