One of the great, sort-of-under the mainstream media’s radar stories of this past year was/is Google Book Search. If you hang around publishing circles (which, well, I do), it’s been a blip on the screen, but if you’re looking at big media stories, this one just seems to escape the big press.
Maybe it’s just that books aren’t as glamorous as movies, I don’t know. But while the major studios and music labels try — and I use the word very deliberately — to wrap their minds around the concept of digitizing and distributing content, Google (and, to be fair, Microsoft and Amazon) has pushed forward with its plan. As I type, I can access digitized books and make decisions about their usefulness in my current research. As more product gets added to the search engine, I find myself using this feature of Google more and more. I have actually made one purchase based on this feature. Not a bad return on investment, considering I never would have found this book on Amazon. I tried; Amazon’s search functionality denied me, time and again. Google, however, was more than happy to offer the book up right away.
But I digress. Google’s project has pissed off the publishing industry like nothing before it. Suddenly, these major companies with very large buildings are in a snit, saying, “But we want to do it ourselves.” Thus far, very few of them, HarperCollins being one, have actually put forth an initiative. If you want my opinion, if a publishing house isn’t feverishly digitizing backlist while I write this, they do not deserve a place on the bookshelf.
Still, all this work is not enough. HarperCollins can have every book it has ever published in digital format and still lose the game. It is not enough to have digital content. The content must be findable…which means it must be searchable. For a publisher to digitize content and make it available online without the input and guidance of the search engine giants, it’s, well, criminal.
Yes, I said search engine giants. All search engines must be given the same level of access to digitized content. I use Google, a woman I know is an MSN user. A client is a total Jeeves freak (so much so that the demise of Jeeves has been a serious emotional blow). When it comes to finding stuff on the web, people get where they’re going in a variety of ways. Locking into a single search relationship is, well, like offering your content over just one cell service.
You are cutting out large portions of your audience.
Again, I digress. This is about Google Book Search. And I am happy to say that it’s alive, well, and working. I am generally a fan of Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. Every book buyer knows that browsing before buying is important. But the Look Inside feature doesn’t offer me sufficient context — when I’m doing research for an article or project, I need to know that the book will actually move me forward. Google’s Book Search offers content in context. Context is very, very important.
As publishers and author fight Google, they hurt themselves. I get the copyright argument. It’s valid, except when protecting copyright leads to locking up content and throwing away the key. What, pray tell, is actually being protected? I can’t read it, access it, buy it, read it. But the copyright is totally safe. Not a single violation to be had. Sure, not a single sale or bite of interest either, but as long as the copyright is inviolate, well, the world is safe from evil.
Maybe a better title for this article is “Whatever Happened To The Publishing Industry”?