New York Times Grouses about Google: Dead Trees Falling in the Forest

April 5, 2009

Gray Sunday about an hour south of Chicago. I checked my newsreader and learned that another one of the dead tree crowd is concerned about Google, affectionately labeled by me as Googzilla. Fresh from threatening the folks at its Boston newspaper here, the New York Times’s patricians shift to old news. The Google Books’ project is fished from la poubel and presented as a not-so-special deal. You can read Miguel Helft’s “It’s Not Just Microsoft That’s Balking at Google’s Book Plans” here. (Click quick. The story may cost you money unless you are lucky enough to receive a dead tree version of the newspaper of record as I do. Yep, I am still a paying customer for the dead tree version of the Saturday paper presented as the Sunday New York Times in Kentucky.)

The Julia Child sauce on this aging fish is that Microsoft is not happy with the Google Book project–its scope, functions, names, technology, whatever.

Please, keep in mind that Microsoft tried to pull a me too in this book scanning sector and bailed out.

Mr. Helft’s argumentative North Korean missile was this passage:

Mr. Macgillivray, who listened to critics — as well as supporters — for hours at the Columbia conference, said he wasn’t terribly surprised that the complex 134-page agreement had sparked a lot of concern. “This is a deal that was negotiated with various parties that don’t typically get along,” he said. “I don’t think it is perfect from the perspective of any of the people who negotiated it. It is not surprising that other people had issues with it.” He later added: “I do think it is a tremendous improvement from where we are today.”

Mild stuff compared to other critics’ views of Googzilla in my opinion.

But the New York Times’s editorial team is in what I think of as a bit of a bind.

On one hand, some of the folks covering the GOOG are starting to understand that the GOOG is not just search and advertising.

On the other hand, the New York Times’s itself faces a steep financial hill and has some MBAs on staff who understand the perilous position in which the publisher finds itself.

I think I admire the Times for making an attempt to explain aspects of the GOOG in short essays like Mr. Helft’s. The problem is that these are in my opinion the informational equivalent of a dead tree falling in a forest ravaged by global warming.

Is it possible to reverse the legal agreement? In my experience, it’s expensive to try and reverse legal agreements, online infrastructure, and a company whose users are the children of people like publishing executives. The enemy is not Google. The enemy in my opinion is like the commuter who blames the automated system for shutting the doors before the passenger could board the automated shuttle at the Atlanta airport. Maybe another train will come along and the passenger can hop on that one?

Stephen Arnold, April 5, 2009


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