The future of publishing just got a whole lot closer — seemingly overnight. This morning Google announced that it has reached an agreement with authors and publishers to settle various lawsuits over the Google Book Search program.
Google will pay $125 million to settle all claims (small change for a company with over $14 billion in cash). In exchange, Google’s Book Search program will continue and future revenues from that program will be administered by a newly created Book Rights Registry.
At first glance, this appears to be the rare settlement agreement that seemingly benefits all parties. In fact, the only entities that don’t seem to have fared so well are parties who weren’t involved in the suits.
- Google: It’s hard to overstate how important this agreement is for Google. Google has essentially acquired the digital rights to the long tail. At least the portion of the long tail that’s locked up in out of print books. That’s a VERY long tail.
Google has mastered the art of turning arcane search phrases into money. In the future they’ll have a lot more content to monetize. Content that no other search engine will have access to. That’s a huge competitive advantage.
- The Rightsholders: Authors and publishers will benefit immediately as they allocate the funds from the initial settlement, and over time as they collect revenue generated from out of print works. In the vast majority of cases, these out of print works would have never generated any additional income.
I’ve already heard some grumbling that publishers gave too much away in this deal, but it’s hard to see how that can be the case. Google has basically created an entirely new revenue stream that publishers can use to profit on books that would otherwise not have generated a cent.
- Libraries: The libraries that participate in the digitization program will get to keep control over their archives. Equally important, libraries will have digital access to the archives of other libraries. The academic community as a whole will benefit in ways that we can’t yet imagine.
- The Public: The public gets easy access to millions of rare and out of print works.
- Amazon: Amazon’s 190,000 Kindle titles look puny compared to the millions of books Google now has access to. Granted many of those Kindle titles make up the big head of consumer demand, as opposed to the long tail. Still, Google now has the ability to monetize millions of books Amazon can’t, if for no other reason because they’re out of print. What’s more, under the new agreement Google has the right to sell printed copies of those books via print on demand. And I have a sneaking suspicion that Google still has a few more surprises in store for us. Android may turn out to be more than just a mobile phone platform.
- Microsoft: Not long ago Microsoft had its own book search program. The company unceremoniously killed that program on the eve of BEA earlier this year. While Microsoft still views web search as an important strategic goal, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Microsoft search will ever catch up to Google.
- Fair Use Advocates: There are many (myself included) who believed Google had a strong fair use argument to support their scanning efforts. It was hoped that a Google court victory would reaffirm those rights. By settling out of court Google avoided the issue entirely. Clearly Google has some long term goals for this content that would not have fallen under Fair Use. In the end Google was better off striking a deal with the rightsholders. Also, it’s been noted that by avoiding this issue entirely Google may have effectively locked out any future competition.