Google Books: The Death of a… Part II

By Wednesday November 4th, 2009

Monopoly becomes a concern once again with the death knell of the nation’s libraries

Monopoly becomes a concern once again with the death knell of the nation’s libraries

It’s certainly not a new idea, but as the digitization of the world’s libraries grows closer to becoming a reality, legitimate concerns about the future of publishing are popping up all over the world.  In October 2008, Google announced a settlement with The Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers that bespoke the birth of Google Books, an initiative to collect millions of books from libraries around the world into one virtual location.  The benefits of such a momentous project seem pretty obvious; millions of rare or out of print books will be easily accessible from anywhere in the world. Furthermore, the billions of pages of text that this provides as research material will be easily searchable using the standard Google search engine that we all know and love. So what’s the hang-up, you might ask? With a music industry that is still reeling from the huge changes brought on by the advent of Internet distribution and a motion picture industry struggling with the reality of AppleTV and Hulu, it seems natural to be a little wary of new technologies. But anti-trust suits?

The real crux of the issue shines through as soon as we start to think about a monetization and revenue structure. Doesn’t it always? Distribution of rights and royalties is pretty simple, authors will be paid an agreed upon percentage of overall sales and advertising much like formulas previously developed by iTunes and the like. The real problems begin when we get into older, lesser-known works whose authors are long dead or even unknown; who gets the digital distribution rights to those? The settlement previously reached by Google provided for the establishment of the Books Rights Registry, a not-for-profit organization to help locate rights holders and ensure they receive the money that they deserve. This organization would be responsible for hunting down the closest living relatives or estate organizations to which this money is owed, but what happens to the ones they are unable to find? Those opposing the current settlement say that there is not careful enough provision for these circumstances and that it gives Google almost monopolistic control over the digital distribution rights of these works. In response to these complaints, a federal judge has asked Google to revise and resubmit the settlement for review on November 9th.

With the similarities that this structure has to existing systems in other industries, and the utter upheaval that these industries have experienced as a result, it is easy to see why many are tentative to step too firmly. As libraries seem to be going the way of the record shop though, it seems an inevitable progression that will be dealt with sooner than later whether we like it or not. It just remains to see if we’ll be too scared of this new technology to make informed decisions. I hope not.

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About the Author

Matthew is a partner and Chief Strategy Officer at Brolik. As CSO, he manages the digital marketing team, helping Brolik’s roster of clients achieve their online marketing goals. When he’s not coming up with his next big campaign idea, you might find him in the recording studio or enjoying an IPA with a funny name. Check him out on Twitter.