Hey publishers, get over Google Print already!

I really don’t understand why Google’s plan to digitize the text of thousands of books and make them searchable is controversial.

France didn’t like it because they think it will be U.S.-biased. Get over it, France. Google is a U.S. company. What language do you think they’d do first? Hungarian? But I understand that. That’s just France being anti-American.

Now some U.S. publishers are complaining too, and that’s what I don’t understand. They should be loving this.I’ve got news for copyright holders: Virtually anything that exposes people to your work is good. It’s not possible to tell from just looking at book spines and covers everything that’s mentioned in a book. Making the text of books searchable will let researchers find obscure references to the information they seek in unexpected places.

It will also allow researchers to search books that aren’t in their local libraries. While this will likely lead to them seeking out the book via inter-library loan, it will also potentially lead to (gasp!) sales.

As an author, I believe sales are good. I believe this because I used to get little quarterly statements in the mail that told me that when a copy of my book sold, I got $1.75. The cover price on it was $24.95. That leads me to believe the publisher made some money on the sale too, unless there’s something publishers know that I don’t.

Publishers can’t aggressively market every book. The catalog is just too big. Some books sell themselves, but the majority have to wait for someone to be compelled to pick them up. Google’s search plan amounts to free, highly targetted advertising.

The publishers are also complaining that the web pages containing snippets of book text displayed by Google bear a Google copyright. When a newspaper or a magazine publishes a review of a book containing a snippet of text from the book, who do these geniuses think owns the copyright? It isn’t the book publisher. Again, a review is free, targetted advertising. No problem there.

My publisher actually allowed me to take excerpts of my book and republish them as magazine articles and they didn’t make me or the magazine pay them anything as long as the article mentioned the original book at the end of the text. Why? Again, it was free advertising.

As a writer and researcher, I salivate over the possibility of any kind of book search. I have used Amazon.com’s search inside the book feature for research purposes with some (albeit limited) success. Google’s search will inevitably lead to more books being listed in the bibliographies of new books, which is still more free advertising, and as references in places such as Wikipedia, which is also free advertising.

Publishers should be lobbying for some kind of arrangement between themselves, Google, and a print-on-demand service to offer reprints of out-of-print books that turn up in search results. Publishers and authors would then be able to continue to get revenue for books that no longer have enough interest to justify a print run, and it would allow publishers to gauge the popularity of old books and perhaps unearth a few gems that ought to be re-released. Books go out of print when the publisher can no longer prove a book is popular enough to justify a print run. Google statistics would give a real-world (not theoretical) gauge on the popularity of old books, which is something marketing departments should be clamoring to see. Wouldn’t they love to know every book that gets picked up and read in a bookstore? Metrics from Google would be the next-best thing.

The ability to search the full text of thousands of books could revolutionize the publishing industry. As an author, I can’t wait, and publishers ought to be even more excited than me.

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2 thoughts on “Hey publishers, get over Google Print already!

  • May 25, 2005 at 12:15 pm

    Excellent reasoning. I agree with you and Google.

  • May 26, 2005 at 11:25 am

    Never ceases to amaze me. People with a literary or publishing slant often seem to be shortsighted as to how technology can help their fields. Ted Nelson, the person who coined the term “hypertext”, never himself envisioned an open, inexpensive method of accessing book text. Instead, his “Project Xanadu” idea revolved around a complicated (and unfeasible) technology that would move large amounts of text in and out of memory and access to that text would somehow be charged per word! Thankfully, such a system has never come to fruition, but it seems like the same old issue being rehashed by those in the publishing industry.

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