More On Google; We Never Rest

June 4th, 2006 · 6 Comments
by Booksquare

Google carts at BEAAs we all know, it is BS policy to right wrongs, protect truth, justice, and whatnot, and set people straight when they are confused. Our tasks are humble, but we perform them with dignity. Thus we find ourselves delving deep into the comment section of a recent post by the Publishing Contrarian*.

We have, over time, written much about the various Google book initiatives (sample here; there’s more, we promise). First things first, Google is a commercial entity. There is no way that they are undertaking a massive and expensive book scanning project without an eye toward making money. Shareholders are weird that way — they want a return on their investment. In the Contrarian’s comments, one person asks about Google’s money-making prospects. Hello? Advertising. Google makes money from all those little ads. Lots of it. Content equals advertising opportunity.

Google is also, according to Roland Lange of Google, looking to move into print-on-demand and digital downloads. Both options are in the future, but first comes infrastructure. These are two key features that publishers are shying away from. And this is going to lead to what we believe will be the great publishing battle of this decade. As Lynne Scanlon notes:

Perhaps it is time to demand a reversal of rights right now for midlist, backlist and deadlist books that publishing companies have dismissed, neglected, forgotten and allowed to go out of print. These old books and still new books languishing in the bowels of some distribution center, could be freely and generously given to the Universal Library for scanning (copyright waived!) and be one-click-available to all potential readers, literally forever.

Yes, authors who are not actively acquiring their rights should be hiring lawyers. Rights are power. We’ve said this before and we will say this again: get your damn rights back as soon as possible. There is no money in sitting on the out-of-print shelf. Next book? Time limits. Open-ended “in print” clauses are dangerous and expensive. Negotiate specific time periods with specific deadlines and sell-offs. They want to keep your book? Let them pay more.

The same commenter, after wondering who wants to read a book on a computer screen (hello, Net Generation — we will not comment on the book as a lovely thing as, while true, it is not relevant), notes that the big threat is the Sony eReader. The threat to what is not clear, but, no, the eReader won’t save or destroy the world. It’s a one-dimensional device. Look around. Today’s media consumers are seeking multi-functional devices — those cell phones and iPods don’t do just one thing (no matter how well, and by all accounts, the Librie does ). We want a Librie, but we simply cannot carry another device in the BS purse. One must always leave room for a flask.

Today’s consumer requires (not wants, not needs, requires) media as they wish, when they wish, how they wish. They are not waiting for the publishers to dictate terms. They are moving beyond. It is not up to the consumer to wait for the industry. It is up to the industry to meet consumer demands. Again, see the music industry for a business model gone horribly awry.

Getting back to Google, there are competing services out there, all looking to cash in on the next big thing. We can only hope the publishing industry does not fall for them Google and Microsoft and Yahoo and AOL, while (in our mind) doing a little too much bending over backward to accommodate industry concerns, are key portals to finding books and information. The more books in the search engine databases — and it is imperative that publishers realize they must be in all major search engines, none of this “exclusive deal” crap — the more opportunity for consumers (who, we will recall, spend that lovely cash on products) to find books of interest.

There are far too many books out there that want to be read but can’t, due to the arcane rules of publishing and the scarcity of resources model. There are far too many books that might find an audience, however small (another commenter noted that more content doesn’t always translate to more dollars), if only there was access to them. Or the authors could find other ways to monetize their work. Let’s face it: not every book that is published is “good”, not every book that isn’t published is bad, and if you connect with the right readers, you, the author have done your job. If you’re in this business to get rich, well, we have some good news but mostly bad news for you.

We leave with a final thought (yes, we know, we’ll be back, never fear). We have left the either/or model behind. You’re into bookstores and browsing? That should be an option. You want to read online? That is your right. Portable books in electronic format? Fine. A suitcase full of paperbacks? Cool, we do this all the time. Books are not going away; books are, as all things do, evolving to meet needs.

What is happening here is that the consumer is making his or her own choices, moving faster than the industry. Which is sort of amazing considering that the industry has had over ten years to grow accustomed to the idea of new media. It’s not about Google or book scanning or anything. It’s about fear. The industry has a choice — get over it or be left behind. You know where we stand.

* – AKA The Wicked Witch of Publishing. We approve.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

6 responses so far ↓

  • Khalil A. // Jun 4, 2006 at 11:36 pm

    Books are not going away; books are, as all things do, evolving to meet needs.

    I’m 100% with you.

  • David Thayer // Jun 5, 2006 at 6:15 am

    Your common sense view of publishing is refreshing. Remember, though, that Google is a big scary monster with great big teeth and great big eyes and they’ve got robots! Robots.

  • Booksquare // Jun 5, 2006 at 6:22 am

    Robots are more afraid of you than you are them.

    Sure, Google is a big scary monster, but there will be another big scary monster after them. Google and MS are simply laying the groundwork.

  • Joan // Jun 5, 2006 at 9:48 am

    Thanks for being a book-lover who also loves the idea (and reality) of progress, instead of one who pretends there’s something cooler or more authentic about loving books only when they’re in one, old-fashioned format. Goddammit we love Booksquare.

  • Eoin Purcell // Jun 5, 2006 at 11:48 am

    I loved the post and the link but I wonder if instead of dissing publishers we should encourage them to make the leap into infrastructure themselves and provide a wide range of outlets and digital databases for books to avoid an i-Tunes like development where one company has a virtual monopoly of distribution? If Google proves to be the best provider of search tech for books that could be how it develops.

  • Booksquare // Jun 5, 2006 at 12:08 pm

    But of course. Stay tuned. Constructive thoughts are wending their way through my pathetic little brain even as I type (actually, all weekend, except during naptime). First, of course, we have to break their spirits…it’s like the military, with printing presses.

    Google is search. MSN is search. Other search is search. These search companies are also going to move into providing physical or digital product. If done right, this product will serve as an adjunct to various distribution streams. My biggest fear is that publishing will lock into the single-provider model (see: music industry, failed experiments) rather than seeing search as the tool it is.

    I believe that it is in the best interest of publishers to cast as wide a net as possible. You cannot guess what avenue your customers will take to get to you, but you can be sure that they’re not all taking the same route.

    Please, someone stop me before I get all metaphorical…

    Love you too, Joan!