Authors, Orphaned Books, and the Kinder, Gentler Googzilla

October 29, 2008

On October 28, 2008, Google’s posted on “The Official Google Blog” a summary of a deal to assuage some of those aggrieved–even threatened–by Google’s Book Search service. You must read the posting here. Right from the git go, the Google Web log reminds me that Google’s founders wanted to make information in books available to the world. (I now see a red applause sign flashing in my addled goose brain.) Next I am reminded how Google Book Search helped millions, including those curious about the physics of Star Trek and wood carvings in English churches. (I feel a goosely tear in my eye.) Finally, the announcement:

This agreement is truly groundbreaking in three ways. First, it will give readers digital access to millions of in-copyright books; second, it will create a new market for authors and publishers to sell their works; and third, it will further the efforts of our library partners to preserve and maintain their collections while making books more accessible to students, readers and academic researchers. The agreement also resolves lawsuits that were brought against Google in 2005 by a group of authors and publishers, along with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers (AAP). While Google, the Authors Guild and the AAP have disagreed on copyright law, we have always agreed about the importance of creating new ways for users to find books and for authors and publishers to get paid for their works.

The story has ignited that part of the blogosphere not transfixed by the Microsoft demo of Windows 7. One of the more interesting analyses is Richard Koman’s write up for ZDNet. “Will Google Book Settlement Solve Orphan Works?” is here. An orphan is a title that no publisher can squeeze money from without pulling a Penguin. Those are titles recycled in homogeneous covers and offered up to students with a preface by an expert in medieval literature or a specialist in the early writings of James Joyce. For me, the most interesting comment was this statement:

According to Google, the deal with be great for everyone.

My take on this deal is that Google is deciding to make peace with publishers. Since the tie up with the abstracting colossus Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, Googlers are figuring out that publishers own communication channels that can grouse, complain, and make life generally miserable for the math club denizens. So, now there’s a revenue sharing deal.

I have several observations that are, of course, my own opinions:

  1. Publishers are now in the lair of the GOOG. The scent of money has brought them into the Googleplex. Once inside, it will be like the Hotel California.
  2. Google has made a tactical move. My thought process generates one question, “What’s next?”
  3. Google is ever so close to becoming a publisher. When will the company reveal its content assembly invention by Andrew Hogue and others. Google can slice and dice content, whip up a report, and sell it with a marketing mechanism that puts network TV in the 1950s to share.

I am thrilled for the publishers. I am happy for libraries. I guess I am excited about people curious about wood carvings in British churches. Only art and architecture students seem to visit the churches in Malmesbury, where I stay each year, but that’s a small sample. But most of all, I am thrilled for myself because the GOOG is going with the flow. I think once the euphoria dies down, it will be Nelly, bar the door. Google’s going to generate new information constructs and share the millions with the publishers eating in the Google cafeteria.

Stephen Arnold, October 29, 2008

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