You wanna know who cares about copyright? Microsoft does. Microsoft is the friend of copyright. Microsoft would never infringe upon copyright. Microsoft is good.
Guess who’s bad? Yeah, Google. Because it’s a black and white world.
As we all know, Google has been slammed — and hard — for its BookSearch feature. And, as we all know, Microsoft is going to launch its Live Search Books any day now. It’s long overdue and, frankly, the buzz on this product is diminishing with each vaporware-like announcement. Microsoft’s product is designed to compete with Google’s product, so, yeah, it would behoove anyone covering this topic to remember that. Bashing your rival with rhetoric is a time-honored business tactic.
I digress. Google has not made many friends in the publishing pantheon, but it does have more than a few fans in the ranks of small presses and individual authors. Like most who have a stake in the world of content, publishers want to keep interlopers out of their sandbox. And while publishers are rolling out tools (see: HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster), they still don’t seem to grasp the whole concept of search. Search, to publishing houses, is something seen, not done well. Don’t believe me? Type press releases into the HC search box. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
My point, of course, is one I make every two or three days: the general public doesn’t have a clue who publishes what. It might be information that passes by the eyes or wanders through the ears, but, generally, the name of the publishing house is the least important bit of information fed to the consumer. Based on my own informal research, ranking higher than publisher are: title, author, price, local bookstore that has copies, discount available at Amazon, if there’s a bottle of wine chilling or if a trip to the local liquor store is necessary.
This is my delicate way of noting that while publishers will offer cool features on their websites, search is how they’ll get there. Third party search. Google and Microsoft and AOL and just about every other search engine now known or to be developed in the future. Publishers might hate the fact that Google is proactively digitizing books, but you know what they say about trees falling the forest. If a book is available on the Internet and nobody knows about it, well, what’s the point?
Microsoft, make no doubt about it, has the same goal as Google. To quote my former Tai Chi teacher: make lots of money! The goal is to have oodles of content that serves up oodles of ads that lead to oodles of clicks that lead to oodles of dollars. It only goes to follow that Microsoft would try to suck up to publishers by portraying themselves as the good guys. They want all that lovely content for themselves. They will
Some publishers are going to fall for this. I say this is a big, huge mistake. Here’s why: consumers. They remain the most important part of the book-buying public. Consumers, as we all know, are notoriously fickle. They don’t do stuff like use the MSN search product over Google because MSN has signed up more publishers than Google. Consumers use the search engine that makes them happy; heck, I know people who still use Dogpile because they like the name. Not because it’s a superior search product. They. Like. The. Name.
Needless to say, without consumers, book sales tend to be very limited. It’s one of those weird facts of life, probably having to do with economics. I don’t understand economics. It is really, really important that book publishers display their wares, so to speak, where the consumers are. In this case, the consumers are at the search engines. Google is the biggest and most popular. It’s also not the only one. That is just as important to remember as the part where it’s the biggest. Remember Dogpile. Learn from my knowledge. I have a lifetime’s worth. I am willing to share.
Let me try this another way: all the great deals in the world don’t matter if the sales/traffic don’t materialize. Microsoft should get all the publisher love in the world, but that publisher love — in the form of easily searchable content — needs to be equally available to the entire search community.
Yeah, I know, it’s scary. Take a deep breath. Breathe out. In again. You’ll be okay. The trick is to make it easier to buy your product (or, shock!, a relevant portion thereof) than to pirate it. Or to read the entire work online, given the nasty ways that Google and Amazon try to protect content from the prying eyes of consumers.