The Google Books deal is dead: Long live the Google Books deal!
I’m conflicted about this, as all librarians must be (at least a little). I really, really want the gBooks project to go forward. But from the beginning it seemed as if $125 million was a laughably paltry sum for what boils down to the rights to digitize (and keep the keys to) everything, forever, whether or not the true owner of its copyright had agreed to that use (if indeed they could be found).
The aspect of this project that set publishers’ teeth on edge in the first place was the chutzpah the Big G showed in just going ahead with digitizing anything that libraries would let them – without getting permission from publishers. Originally – pre-settlement – I thought this whole thing was a giant win for libraries, and publishers could go hang. But, Google being a for-profit enterprise, turning this into a vehicle for profit was inevitable. (There was also, from a business point of view, the need to make the project pay for itself – which can’t be ignored, especially for a project this open-ended.)
That’s understandable. But in the original settlement, there was no plan to make the full text of digitized books accessible to the public except through single-screen stations in public libraries (with libraries having the option to license more screens, for a fee to be determined at a later date). In other words, all terms were in favor of Google, libraries had no say in the agreement, which was between Google and the publishers, and the price Google paid for this arrangement was very, very low. I’d have been a lot more comfortable with original deal if Google’s profit on the project was not earned on the backs of libraries, with public access to full texts held hostage.
So even though I’m a definite gBooks enthusiast (and user), my first response when I read the judge’s decision was “hear, hear – finally, someone is making a judgment about this that’s in the public’s interest”. Ultimately, I hope they can come to an agreement that is equitable and fair to publishers and authors, but also fair to libraries and the public.
Somehow this had escaped my notice, even though I’ve had the Amazon Kindle for iPad app for months. Apparently Barnes & Noble is in on this act as well, with a nook software version for the iPhone, iPad, and other devices.
On the B&N Website:
Covered on zdNet:
I learned about it via an email from B&N, which I signed up for ages ago (I’ve been a sometime customer of their online and offline bookstores). The email was enticing me with free eBooks – out of copyright classics, naturally – with the bottom half of the email devoted to an ad for the new software-only B&N ebook reader software. (Strange idea, really – I would think “Free eBook Reader App for Your iPhone, iPad” would have made for a much catchier lead – but then again I’m not trying to promote YAERD*.)
*Yet Another E-Reader Device
Going to my first library conference in more than a year, so many ideas and trends swirling in my mind that it is hard to see the information forest for the digital trees.
Amazon announced just a few weeks ago that they now sell more ebooks than hardcovers – which shouldn’t have surprised me as much as it did, given my own preference for (roughly speaking) (1) paperback (2) ebook for my iPad and (3) hardback, in that order. Hardbacks are becoming chic decorative items – coffee table chachkes, and in “distressed” form, ironic works of art.
(My favorite among these has to be the bookends, made of old books bound in a stack and forever shellacked together, recently featured in the NY Times Magazine photo essay the subject.)
But it’s not time to sing the swansong for books just yet – or even print newspapers, though they’re clearly an endangered species. For one thing, I read that NY Times Magazine story the old fashioned way, on paper. In fact I made a special trip to the store to buy the paper, because I wanted to read the news but didn’t want to stare at a screen, if only for a couple of Sunday hours. I felt like I had a real Sunday, actually relaxing as I read instead of scrolling, clicking, scanning, clicking, hopping over to Facebook, checking my work email, etc.
And then there’s the intimacy of reading to a kid from a real book. The past few nights, I’ve been reading to my 7-year-old son the very silly sequel to Howard Whitehouse’s madcap “The Strictest School in the World”, this one called “The Faceless Fiend”. Granted I’m reading it to him by the light of my iPhone’s Flashlight app, but technology is not an intermediary otherwise.
Is that just habit? A factor of my birthdate and not an ingrained preference that others might share? What is the tactile experience of book-reading really about? How is it unique?
This matters to librarians, and anyone interested in the future of information. Our newfound independence from the printed word is liberating – I can as easily read the UK Independent or an English translation of a Spanish paper as a local one, and Google and Amazon are doing their best to bring me any book, in digitized form, more or less on demand. And the very multi-functionality of a device like an iPad gives it a tremendous utility beyond conveying words. But if what we are losing in the process is the idea of physical books as having significance, then librarians have a problem.
Because surveys have shown that the first image that comes to mind when people hear the word “library” is that of – wait for it – books. If libraries are seen as nothing but repositories for these antiquated items from another era, what of the people within them? We know that our purpose is to connect people with their information needs, whether those are best filled by books or not. But the public doesn’t – and that means that for librarians, the political (and thus financial) implications of these trends can’t be ignored.
Interesting kerfuffle between Amazon and the publisher MacMillan (apparently over the price of MacMillan’s books on the Kindle):
The link above is to BoingBoing’s story on the to-do, which is memorable chiefly for its characterization of the Kindle as a “roach motel for books”. If that got your attention (or if you’re a fan of MacMillan’s Tor imprint), read on.
Hmm! Not so fast! Apparently Amazon caved, sometime over the weekend, and according to BusinessWeek will allow MacMillan to raise their book prices to $14.99, afterall. If I were a cartoonist I would draw Jobs with a leash on Bezos and write MacMillan (or maybe iPad) on the leash. Poor Amazon – they must be feeling punch-drunk right now. Let’s hope for their sake that they’re working on a full-size Amazon app for the iPad – and that Apple allows it to go into the iPad App Store.
Blogger Fraser Speirs makes a good case for the Apple iPad as an ideal device for “them” – those who don’t get computers, but want to use something like a computer to communicate and consume media.
(The shorthand for this, I cringe to say, is “a grandma”, because there’s nothing like old+woman to convey perfectly the anti-geek stereotype. Even though my 75-year-old mom is the one of my two parents who actually knows where her files are and understands the difference between Yahoo and the Web, while my 76-year-old dad keeps a copy of every photo he has ever manipulated in Photoshop on his desktop so he doesn’t “lose” them and still doesn’t understand why I keep suggesting he go to aol.com instead of using the AOL app to read his email.) (But I digress.)
I completely agree about who the iPad is for. My dad already wants an iPhone and would have bought one already except that he barely uses his cell phone and doesn’t want a more complicated one. He will buy a $499 iPad as soon as they’re available, while I’ll buy the most expensive one because I’m already spoiled by my 3GS iPhone and won’t want to lose the always-on Internet connection.
Speirs’ other point, that the very accessibility of the iPad is what is stirring up geek-fueled fury against it, even as it stands on the brink of pushing Apple’s profits even higher and selling a gazillion units (conservative estimate), is more debatable. I don’t really think we relish those tech support phone calls, no matter what our line of work, because even in a technology role there is always something more productive to do than ask “is it plugged in?” and explain why there’s no Print option in the File menu when you don’t have an application running in the foreground that can print anything.
I think all the geek fury is not about losing control of our realm – it’s because the device we’ve been waiting and salivating over, in our blogs and our geek-centric news items, turns out to not be meant for “us” at all. It can’t do multitasking, we can’t program for it ON it (we have to use a separate computer for that), and it won’t access all media types (if you consider Flash a media type and not just a huge inconvenience – ‘nother topic, that one).
It’s for “them” – the users, the media consumers, the non-geeks. We wanted a hot Apple version of a tablet PC, not a giant iPhone. Well, we’ll just have to wait, pony up for a Mac Mini, and grin and bear it. And in the meantime, pick up a few shares of AAPL for kicks.
From the Chronicle of Higher Education comes this roundup of the latest news on the Google Books settlement. Of course the upcoming Apple iPad, now that it’s no longer rumorware, will be world-changing again in 60-90 days. Google will undoubtedly have to take notice, but they appear to have already covered that eventuality, at least in part, with their ePub versions of works in the public domain (via LifeHacker). It will be interesting to see if gBooks works something out with libraries and/or publishers about publishing books in ePub format that are still within copyright.
According to the Chronicle, it seems my personal hero, Ursula K. LeGuin, is lending her well-known voice to those expressing displeasure with the settlement, particularly because it appears to wrest control of copyright out of the hands of authors and place it into the hands of publishers – those who have opted in to the settlement, that is. Those who have opted out of the settlement, she says, will have no say about what happens to books Google has scanned. Presumably, those will only be available in “snippet view”, but even though the view is limited, the scans are not – once Google has a book, it has the whole book, regardless of what it chooses to show or hide. (Speaking of which, the Electronic Frontier Foundation has a fine and full discussion of Snippet View and other implications of the settlement for publishers.)
Just caught sight of this little announcement, tip o’ the virtual hat to my favo(u)rite snarky tech site, The Register:
I haven’t invested in the Kindle (at least not for myself), so to me this news is All Good. More digital book access will mean more digital books, which will mean more information accessible to more people.
If Sony and Google figure out how to make this work for libraries, even better … my understanding is that Kindle doesn’t quite have that sussed.