Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Trouble With Googles


On the surface, the giant search engine Google's planned launch of "Google Print"-- an entire library downloaded onto the internet-- sounded like a great idea. Just imagine never having to go to the library again. No wasting of gas to drive downtown. No extra effort searching through volumes of useless spines staring at you from dusty shelves. Anyone with internet access would easily be able to find some lost piece of literature tucked into a pop-open computer file. Sound cool?
Probably. That is unless you're a writer, publisher or book marketer. If you're involved in one of those three "industries", you're likely a bit hot around the collar. It's no small matter to you. Because financially we're talking about millions of dollars and thousands of jobs.

From the writer's perspective, one has to remember how authors get paid. Advances (if you're J.K. Rowling or Stephen King) and Royalties. Royalties are the miniscule percentage that author's receive every time one of their titles sell. I can already here the arguments about this: "But these are library books. Authors won't make money on them anyway."

Wrong.

How do libraries acquire those books? They buy them from the publishers, thus generating cash for them to keep doing business and for writers to keep writing.

Book marketers would be devastated as they would have a major outlet (the libraries) taken away. Jobs would be lost by their thousands.

I'm not an alarmist but I believe that Google has overstepped their boundaries here. The financial implications are too broad to simply say "Yeah, we should do this because it's easy." The questions we should be asking are "Why?" Why is it important to set up this "Google Print" library? Why do we need almost all the books in the world digitalized? What will happen to our libraries, librarians (another job cut?) and authors? How vital is it that we sit on our asses in front of a computer and never leave our homes?

There are tons of copyright protections for film and now music. Why is print being left out?

As the lawsuits against Google pile up and the general population wonder what the hell is going on, we need to be asking questions.

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