Talking Up The Fear Factor

October 21st, 2005 · 5 Comments
by Booksquare

Pardon us if we’re thinking that the Google project is the most exciting thing to happen in the publishing industry since the printing press. Not since mass-production of books was made possible has there been such opportunity. We read an interesting piece this morning that addresses something we haven’t considered: fear of the unknowable.

But in spite of this disorienting new fluidity, we still have print, we still have the book. And actually, Google Print in many ways affirms this since its search returns will point to print retailers and brick-and-mortar libraries. Yet the fact remains that the canon is being scanned, with implications we can’t fully perceive, and future uses we can’t fully predict, and so it is understandable that many are unnerved. The ice is really beginning to melt.

There is a great sense of leaping into the void with this project — some of us see opportunity. Some see doom. We’re sure a few of you out there are ready to declare the novel dead (it’s getting to be that time of year — where are the articles?).

Does Google have a profit motive? Yes, a major business doesn’t take on a project like this out of the goodness of its heart. Does Google need this project to succeed? Probably not, much to the chagrin of those who don’t have Google stock this morning.

We keep circling back to the notion of an electronic card catalog that does more than cite title, author, keywords, and Dewey Decimal reference. This modern catalog will all but allow you to pick up the product and fondle it. You will get more than a brief synopsis; one amazing aspect of this project is that the technology will allow researchers to get enough context to say, “Yeah, I need to buy this.”

This resource could, conceivably, be used by librarians and researchers (and even publishers, since they’ve all but admitted they don’t have detailed electronic records of everything they’ve published) instead of proprietary catalogs. Google is paying for the upfront work, and is absolutely planning on recouping its costs. But other institutions will have the benefit of their labor.

File Under: Books/Mags/Blogs

5 responses so far ↓

  • David Thayer // Oct 25, 2005 at 9:24 am

    Having secured the Google monster by ropes and ties, the people of Lilliput rejoice.

  • Booksquare // Oct 25, 2005 at 10:53 pm

    And here I was counting on you to start the novel death rumors. Will have to tag Brenda Coulter. She’s not paying attention at this late date.

  • Cornelia Read // Oct 31, 2005 at 12:47 pm

    I’ve recently joined Word of Mouth, the group of women writers who first joined forces on an open letter to Oprah Winfrey, asking that she reconsider her decision to exclude contemporary works as “picks” for her tremendously influential book club.

    Google Print has been a hot topic on our local chapter’s discussion board. While we’re all in favor of efforts to bolster readership, a number of members were disturbed to discover that their books can be accessed and downloaded in full from Google Print if a ubiquitous word (such as “the”) is used as a search term. Okay, so it may take several searches to reveal all the chunks of a given book, but that doesn’t strike me as a compelling point.

    I’ve seen the argument that Google Print is merely an indexing tool–the modern equivalent of a library’s card catalog–reported widely in recent weeks, not least in the latest issue of WIRED magazine. Writers and publishers who bring up pesky issues of copyright infringement have been depicted as benighted Luddites, money-grubbing elitists too smug to thank Google for its stunningly benevolent labors on their behalf.

    Comparing this endeavor to a card catalog is laughable, however. If libraries suddenly started reproducing the entire content of books they hadn’t purchased–whether or not readers had to drag oaken drawers of Dewey-Decimal-sorted index cards over to the nearest Xerox machine to run off their own free copies–Google Print’s supporters might be justified in making the comparison.

    As it is, the fact that Microsoft is joining a rival effort, one which will seek copyright permission BEFORE scanning any book’s content, AND which will compensate publishers and authors for granting that permission, seems to undercut Google’s posture as the Lady Bountiful of literary culture in this electronic age.

  • Booksquare // Nov 3, 2005 at 12:28 am

    Cornelia, while I understand your position, I do not believe it is correct that books can be downloaded in any form. All of my research indicates that a relatively small (relatively because your idea of small and mine are surely different) piece of text will be displayed — in a format that cannot be copied or downloaded. Google is not in the business of providing electronic books at the moment. This may change as the publishing industry changes, but searching on “the” will return results and a persistent reader might be able to work his or her way through an entire book in this manner — I’d personally get frustrated early on.

    I would note, however, that no technology is perfectly safe from hacking, but that’s another discussion.

    I have two issues with your final paragraphs. First, while the opt-in approach is a compelling idea, the fact is that most publishers don’t have good databases of their products. They can, of course, provide necessary permission for, possibly, the last decade of works, but not older items. This is something they’ve admitted to — the reason I noted the past ten years is because Amazon offers synopses and glimpses inside of many works published within the past ten years. Given the scope of Google’s project, they will go beyond what Amazon has. Also, I’m not sure what the compensation structure you note is about — do I think authors should be compensated? Absolutely. But what is the basis for the compensation? I’ll have to do research to learn more.

    This is an especially compelling consideration in light of the fact that more works are moving into the public domain at a slower rate than ever before — while increasing numbers of works are becoming unavailable to consumers due to the vagaries of publishing and stocking bookshelves. Even libraries cull their collections on a regular basis. They have to. Physical space cannot easily expand as needs grow.

    As for the card catalog argument, yes, Google is doing full text scanning. This text will be fully indexed. Search results will return relevant portions of the text, but not the full text nor provide a downloadable copy of the book. From the results, the searcher has the option of moving on or following links to buy the book. This is where the card catalog analogy comes from. Sure, you get more than bibliographic information and keywords, but not significantly more.

    I am not sure how Google will profit from this venture, but like Microsoft, Google rarely enters into non-money making ventures (shareholders and whatnot). However, they, unlike Microsoft, are in the business of indexing information.

  • Chris Hamilton-Emery // Aug 7, 2008 at 8:44 am

    I’ve no problem with Google breaching copyright and claiming it is restrictive as long as they give me the code to their search algorithm and let me use it for free with their competitors. Or are they arguing the IP matter to them but not to the rest of us?