In 2004, Google announced its plan to scan every book printed. They began working with university libraries such as Harvard, University of Michigan, and Oxford.
This caused the publishing industry some great consternation because an author’s work would be included automatically unless the author chose to opt out. Problem was that Google never alerted the individual copyright holders of its process so unless you received notice from your agent or publisher, you may not have known. Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the Authors Guild filed copyright infringement suits. The AAP claims that Google is engaging in licensing without paying for it.
For me, as a reader who loves ebooks, I was less concerned about this. This type of technology and the one that is employed by Amazon and being developed by Random House and Harper Collins aids a reader in previewing a book before its purchased. It’s all about the excerpt, baby. Amazon claims that those books that feature “search inside” utility have a 7% greater sales rate than for books that do not.
But everyone knew that Google’s book project was more than just providing a service, preserving knowledge and creating a universal library. It is about making money. First, Google was going to sell ad revenue that accompanied book search results just like the search engine results are accompanied by paid ads. No problem.
On January 18, 2007, Google shared information with 400 publishers its plan for Google Reaader which was not dissimilar to the one Random House has. This plan allows readers to search and then charge a per page viewing price. You will also be able to purchase the entire book.
The catch? According to the fine print, noted by a user at Mobile Read, Google is not going to allow you to download the book. Instead, the book or page or paragraph will be available to you through Google’s special online viewer. Ditto with Random House. Random House suggests that a fiction title would cost about four cents per page for every page beyond the free sample or perhaps 99 cents for 20 pages. A 300 page book would then cost $15.00 which you can only view online.
According to the Google spokesperson, the key to Google’s access is online viewing. As an example, here is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen published in 1892 and from the Harvard University Library. It is not a book that has been scanned in and then the words recognized and made into an electronic book. Rather it is a series of images that can only be read with an appropriately sized screen (something larger than the Sony Reader).
David RothmanBranko Collin, of Teleread.org, says that this sounds “spooky.” I say it sounds like Google was on crack when it thought up this brainless idea. Ditto with Random House.
Just so that I understand this concept correctly, I get an excerpt and if I want a longer excerpt, I have to pay for it and if I want to read the entire digital copy then I have to pay a premium for Google and Random House to dictate to me when, where and how I can read it. If I want to read in bed or on a plane or at lunch, I am pretty much stuck with reading Skymall.
This idea is so ridiculously bad that I start to wonder if I am actually reading these news articles correctly. Surely a business as savvy as Google wouldn’t be so ignorant of the reading public. Surely a company that actually does nothing but provide content to readers, such as Random House, would understand that readers don’t want to read on their laptops and only when there is online access. Did they think to themselves that if they charge two times the cost of a paperbook and allow only online access that people will believe that its a great idea and sign up in droves?
Not me. I am not drinking the Kool-Aid. I would rather buy paper books and give up e-reading altogether if this is the direction of epublishing. This type of super restricted access will only encourage piracy as suggested by David Rothman. Readers want to own the books that they pay for and they want to control when, where, and how those books are read.