One Publisher Speaks in the Wilderness

September 28th, 2005 · No Comments
by Booksquare

Booksquare household hero, Tim O’Reilly, offers his thoughts on the Google libraray. O’Reilly has been a pioneer in publishing, making the full text of his books available electronically via a subscription service called Safari. He also supports the Google initiative.

O’Reilly responds to one publisher’s statement that the opt-out option is unfair because he, the publisher, cannot possibly know what he published in the 60s and 70s. Heavens, those were the olden days and nobody’s bothered to digitize the records. They’re very dusty, allergies, you know. It’s kind of a fun argument: we don’t know what we have and we don’t want you making it easy for us to figure that out. The really sad thing here is that not all of this particular house’s books will be included in the Google project — only those titles surviving in libraries such as Harvard’s. It is somewhat disheartening to think of how much of the written word has been lost due to the vagaries of publishing.

I do think that a lot of the resistance from publishers has to do with the fear of ultimately being disintermediated by Google. And it’s a legitimate fear. The publishers who don’t embrace the net will be swept away by it, while those who do will surf the wave to new excitement. Print-bound intermediaries will go away, but they will be replaced by new delivery-mechanism-agnostic intermediaries and business models. The role of the intermediary will remain because it’s driven by the law of large numbers.

We will agree that the argument being made by the publishers feels more like fear. Google is making far less text available than one could find browsing the shelves of a bookstore or library (you want your piracy? pick on those people in the comfy chairs at Barnes & Noble. . .they’re reading for free!). We understand the argument that Google is digitizing someone else’s work and that there’s a profit motive. The question for publishers and authors is this: if Google doesn’t bear the expense of doing this work, who will? Or is it better to contribute to the great art obscurity project?

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