November 19, 2005

"Information wants to be found."

Everyone agrees to that. So if Google's Book Search program brings readers to the books that want to be found, how has it done anything other than enhance the value of the books? But it must scan the books into its system to perform the searches, that is, make a copy, and the copyright holders, not content that Google is doing them a service, wants to be paid for that copying. It's hard not to notice and envy that huge pile of money Google's got.
Publishers and authors are suing Google over its Book Search program (formerly called Google Print), which lets users search for terms within volumes. Though users will see only a few lines of text related to the search term, Google is planning to digitize entire copyrighted works from the collections of three university libraries. The publishers and authors contend that without their approval, that is a violation of copyright laws....

Google ... maintains that it needs to scan a whole book for its search engine to work. Successful searches will return only three to five lines of text, which the company says constitutes a "fair use," allowed under copyright law.

David Drummond, Google's general counsel, said the company's service allowed users to find books that are in libraries but no longer in bookstores, and that would otherwise go undiscovered by most potential readers.

[Allan Adler, a vice president for legal and governmental affairs at the Association of American Publishers,] and Nick Taylor, president of the Authors Guild, which is also suing Google, made several pointed references to Google's status as a for-profit company. "The issue here is indeed control," Mr. Taylor said. "It is the appropriation of material that they don't own for a purpose that is, however altruistic and lofty and wonderful, nevertheless a commercial enterprise."

Translation: Google is making money, so we don't care that it is improving life for both authors and readers. We want some of the money!

15 comments:

erp said...

It's reasonable that authors and publishers want to make money from the use of their intellectual property. The problem is publishers didn't get there first by offering their in-print selections in CD form or downloadable from the internet. Google shouldn't be faulted for seeing the future and heading in that direction because however book publishing evolves, it won't involve words typed on paper.

For out-of-print books, you'd think authors would be delighted that Google is preserving their work in their data files even though it really should be the Library of Congress who is doing this important work.

Slocum said...

David Drummond, Google's general counsel, said the company's service allowed users to find books that are in libraries but no longer in bookstores, and that would otherwise go undiscovered by most potential readers.

I think therein lies the fear of the publishers -- they fear 'the long tail'. It's no secret that publishers are not happy about what the Internet has done for the used book market. Already, you can easily, instantly find used copies of books for less than new (and publishers, of course, get nothing from used book sales).

GooglePrint goes another step in this direction because it will make it much more likely for people to discover older books by text searches that they never would have found and known about otherwise. But finding these older books won't result in a gain to the publisher in most cases, because the book isn't even in print anymore--so if there is a purchase, the purchase will be of a used copy and, worse, the purchase may be instead of a new, in-print book.

It may be that publishers don't like GooglePrint because they don't want all of those out-of-print but still in-copyright works made more visible -- they want them to remain buried so they don't compete with new books.

dirty dingus said...

Coinicidentally I wrote about Google yesterday at my blog. I based my analysis on other things such as the excellent Cringely article about Google's future but I have linked to this because I think that Slocum's comment in particular is very good.

erp said...

... "and publishers, of course, get nothing from used book sales ..." and neither do authors. Of course this is true, but it never crossed my mind. Instant answers and instant clarifications -- blogs have the answers.

Starless said...

erp said...
The problem is publishers didn't get there first by offering their in-print selections in CD form or downloadable from the internet.

Some have tried and have found it to be not very successful. Most people don't want to sit and read a long (say novel length) piece of text from a monitor. Readers generally don't want to curl up with their monitor or even their laptop.

It's a real problem for publishers because they know that eventually there will be a new medium which will successful replace paper books, but they don't know what it is yet.

... "and publishers, of course, get nothing from used book sales ..." and neither do authors

I was just reading the preface in a reprint of Asimov's _Foundation_ where he was talking about how surprisingly popular the series had become. The initial printing (with Gnome Press) in the '50s(?) was a resounding failure with only a few thousand copies sold. When the book went into reprint, passed from publisher to publisher, and became more and more successful, the copies from the original printing inflated in value in the used market to more than 10 times their original cost. Of which he received not a single penny.

Starless said...

I have to wonder if publishers can successfully use this case as precedence. Google is, after all, "sampling" from copyrighted pieces for profit.

Art said...

If the public domain classics are more accessable on line than more current works, will that lead to a resurgence in their popularity?
What are the implications for modern culture?
Discuss.

Joan said...

Angela Hoy at WritersWeekly has written extensively about this issue, and the generally screwed-up state that the traditional publishing industry is in. Reading her site on these issues is an education unto itself.

You're right, starless, that people still want actual books to read when it comes to longer forms. The solution to all of this mess, really, is to transform the entire publishing industry to a print-on-demand model, wherein every book must be paid for (as opposed to ordered and then returned if not purchased). With print-on-demand, a book doesn't ever have to go out of print.

Watch how quickly the authors will sit up and applaud if GooglePrint could make their works available via POD publishers, with royalties as appropriate (to both the POD publisher and the author). It would seem to be a much more fair and sustainable model. Getting there won't be fun, but the publishing industry is in the midst of multiple crises now anyway.

Kathy said...

The homeschool curriculum we use (www.amblesideonline.org) uses lots of books in the public domain that are available online for free. Partly this is because often the older books are "better": more literary, more interesting, more challenging. Some people reformat the online text and print it out. Some publishers reprint them and sell them. (www.yesterdaysclassics.com does this.) Some read some selections directly from the screen, but they usually limit this to avoid eye-strain.

For us, the worst case is a book that is out of print but not in the public domain, because the supply is scarce and when many of us all start trying to buy books from that limited supply it naturally drives the price up. A particular history book published within the last fifteen years, originally sold for something like $15, was selling recently for over $50 because so few copies were available, but the publisher was unwilling to either reprint the book or let another publisher reprint it.

Starless said...

Art said...
If the public domain classics are more accessable on line than more current works, will that lead to a resurgence in their popularity?
What are the implications for modern culture?
Discuss.


Seeing as much literature in the public domain has already been published online for a while now, I'd say, "Little resurgence and not much impact". People aren't going to change their reading habits because of availability.

Joan said...
The solution to all of this mess, really, is to transform the entire publishing industry to a print-on-demand model

PoD has already got a foothold in the commercial printing industry (the people who print and send you junk mail) to help them implement One-to-One marketing. No more sad Publishers Clearinghouse type letters, now financial broker X can send a highly personalized letter to client Y without having anything to do with the letter's content. But with all of the cool aspects of PoD, I have a hard time seeing its consumer application going beyond a kiosk sitting in Barnes & Noble. The real revolution will come for publishing when they work out all of the kinks and reduce the cost of "smart" paper and flexible screens.

Watch how quickly the authors will sit up and applaud if GooglePrint could make their works available via POD publishers

Yeah. Most authors, like most musicians, aren't making gobs of money off of their creative work unless they're superstar bestsellers. Wider distribution, whether they get their ten cents from each copy or not, can only be good for them. You can bet that any obscure author who is complaining about Google is being encouraged to do so by his publisher and/or agent.

Starless said...

Kathy said...
A particular history book published within the last fifteen years, originally sold for something like $15, was selling recently for over $50 because so few copies were available, but the publisher was unwilling to either reprint the book or let another publisher reprint it.

It's really expensive to print a short run of anything, even with PoD. If the printer hasn't "gone digital" yet, they may or may not have the original plates they used for the print job. If they don't, then they may have to typeset, photographer, and re-etch the plates all over again.

Even if they do have the original plates, they've still got to prep the printing press (oftentimes a multi-million dollar machine), cut the paper they need, pay the press operator (often at $20+ an hour) and the loader. They then have to bind the book, which is a whole separate and nearly as complex operation as the printing, then they have to finish and box everything, and then ship the boxes out. Every step of the way they've got people doing work who have to be paid.

And even if they use some sort of PoD printing press, but the book has been out of print for a long time, it's likely they don't have a digital copy, so then they'll have to digitally typeset the whole thing, run it through the PoD press and then follow all of the binding and finishing process they have to follow for traditional printing.

In the best case scenario (they have everything digitally typeset in a file ready to go straight to the PoD press) and all you want is unbound, black and white, standard size paper,they aren't likely to break even on the job unless you order a couple of thousand copies.

Selling paper with marks on it is a very low-margin business. Volume is the only way they make any money.

tefta said...

Of course people don't want to read at their desks in front of a huge monitor.

I purchased the smallest notebook I could find and set up Word to emulate an open book. It's not a bad way to do it, but certainly, I'm no genius nerd, so I'll pass along this suggestion.

All you techies out there who want to become shamefully rich, design an electronic book that has soft sides and can be held comfortably whether sitting up or propped up on your tummy lying down. The screen is important. It must be glare free, but bright enough to read without additional light, yet can be adjusted to reading in bright sunlight. Tired old eyes will thank you.

Keep it light, no need for all kinds of peripheral programs, just a very simple word processor for annotations and font size changes. That's important too because like me, there will soon be millions of retired baby boomers who wouldn't mind being able to read without their glasses. Keep the cost under $300.00 and your fortune is made.

Publishers would have to start routinely making their books available for download or on CD's. I wonder how much of a $25.00 book is actually profit after the costs of paper, printing, assembling and distribution are factored in?

Starless said...

tefta said...
I wonder how much of a $25.00 book is actually profit after the costs of paper, printing, assembling and distribution are factored in?

If it's _Harry Putter and the Pot Full of Money_, a lot, if it's _Obscure Biography of Mr. X_, not so much. $25 is one of those magical price points, so even if you're not going to make a pile of profit off the hard cover, you really have to price it there if you don't want to scare consumers away.

Decklin Foster said...

I wonder if anyone has thought of suing bookstores because I can go into one and decide what book I want to buy by opening them up and reading a page without paying for it. If I buy some coffee while I'm there, shouldn't all those authors get a cut?

XWL said...

Libraries are even more sue worthy than bookstores given that almost all libraries have copy machines available.

The only possible purpose would be to violate copywright (fair use you say, pah!, I spit on your fair use).

Having those machines near all those books should be viewed as grokster level inducement to commit a crime.

(all those copy machines lead to file sharing, it's a slippery slope)