9.23.2005

Google Print

This week the author's Guild made some big noise about Google Print and BoingBoing was there to cover the story(now with update).

There's several more links that have been passed around in e-mails, but I'll keep it limited to the last few links I received.

Here's Google's Response. And Google reps are actually sending a link to the EFF in their e-mails to publishers!

And here's Some more legal analysis.

Even within my own publishing-head I'm torn about the subject. On the one hand, I agree that this is a necessary step towards having the world at your fingertips and a digital index of so many works can speed up research. But on the other, there's the fact that they went to libraries to scan these books in without really contacting the authors and publishers. This just seems a little slick and makes me slightly uncomfortable. Dial-A-Book provides a similar service and they only request the first two chapters of the book (The big difference is that there's no research element to Dial-a-Book, so there's nothing academic, but it is useful to look at the service when people start talking about how it will increase sales). So there's not a parallel I'm really comfortable with to help me get a better grasp on the situation. (Could it be that this really is a brave new frontier for publishing?)

What I never see mention of is whether Google is allowed to scan the ephemera and special collections (within reason, of course. I don't expect them to go about breaking rare books and handling delicate Victorian periodicals to get digital scan of them of the libraries.) I think what's more important than a scan of the paperback of some Hemingway book is a scan of his manuscript for that book or his notes and letters at the time of the book. A greater loss to publishing and academics than the phantom lost royalties is if Google sweeps in to these libraries and never bothers scanning the really rare stuff that you can't find in nearly every other library or bookshop on the planet. If we're not getting those digital copies of Hemingway's letters to Dos Passos or his editor then the importance of Google Print isn't as great to me. I can't find any statement that clarifies if they're scanning whole libraries or just the stacks. If they're sticking with the public stacks, then I am leaning more on the side of the Author's Guild. Google's not really out to provide the best academic service they can, they're out to get as much content as they can for their site. That's a slight difference, but one that keeps me hesitant of joining the Google Print bandwagon.

As for the sales aspect, I don't know if there will be a bump. Sure when digital music went online sales increased as people found new music to listen to and maybe people will find more things to read. But books are not music and samples of books have never been a really big thing. I mean, who cares about the sample outside of bibliophiles? True there's not really a great service to provide people with information about new books (especially with most newspapers and magazines cutting book review departments and column space). Most of the sources are also very stuffy, snobbish or insider-ish. But I'm not sure the portal that claims it searches 8,168,684,336 web pages is going to be able to provide a better path to books that people should find.

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