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Doug's Mailbag: Is Google Books Doing It Right?

Is Google Books a helpful resource or just a way for Google to cheat original content authors? Here's what you think:

As an engineering student, I have to say that Google books has been one of the best resources online in terms of figuring out things that we had no idea how to do! I really appreciated it because it often gave examples and explanations that were different from the other sources that I had (and books that I did pay for!) So in terms of textbooks, I love it...but it is a pain because if you search for something specific, it will sometimes block out the important pages that you obviously wanted to see based on your search. But then if you go back in a different browser (or a friend's computer), then you can usually see what you were looking for! 
-Lauren Barney (Doug's daughter)

You aren't being too hard on Google. I was at the Waterside Publishing Conference to accept an award some years ago and one of the speakers was a Chinese publisher who said books were only worth the value of the paper. But he couldn't understand why those of us who were authors weren't jumping all over the chance to have our work published in China. As I explained to him, several of my books were published in China and I thought it would only be fair if I shared in the profits. Like Google, he thought that the writers didn't deserve to be paid -- only those who were stealing their work should make money. Needless to say, after writing well over 80 books, I think I do deserve to be paid for my work.

I think as the book market transitions to a digital one( just as the market for CDs and DVDs has), it will change the entire distribution model.  Authors may need to adjust to lower compensation per copy for digital distribution, but the opportunity for vastly higher sales volume may outweigh that.  And, as with music and video, some people may want to sample without buying, but many will pay an appropriate amount to consume the content they desire. 

Content creators of all sorts will need to adjust to this new model of distribution instead of reacting like the RIAA and MPAA: trying to sue people back into a bygone era of physical media ownership.  As for Google scanning and posting content from existing books, how is that different from a library? They buy one copy and many people can read that one copy without paying the author any money. The Google copies are also incomplete (certain page ranges are blank). So if someone wants the full content, they still need to pay for either a physical or digital copy.  But, without being able to find this content first by searching Google, they might not even know the work or author even existed.  And if all they wanted was a snippet of the content for research or references, they wouldn't be a potential purchaser anyway.  

It's an adjustment for sure, but it sort of seems inevitable at this point.  As long as content providers can produce revenue for the creators and allow them to specify how their content is distributed, everyone will benefit.  Look at the Apple store, advertiser-backed Web pages, Netflix-like streaming services, etc.

Share your thoughts with the editors of this newsletter! Write to [email protected]. Letters printed in this newsletter may be edited for length and clarity, and will be credited by first name only (we do NOT print last names or e-mail addresses).

Posted by Doug Barney on 09/12/2012 at 1:19 PM


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