Google: Digital Bookstore

The Washington Post released an article recently about the upcoming lawsuit ruling that was filed against Google in 2005 after it released its plans for Google Books.

This article brings up a good point about how quickly Google has shifted its original goal of indexing materials and pointing users to the original source to becoming a producer and to an extent a publisher of digital information by claiming they are proving a unique service. I’m assuming this was Google’s original goals, which was stated in numerous Google Reports and interviews, but perhaps they had farther reaching ambitions from the beginning.

However, in October of 2008, Google presented publishers and authors with a legal settlement which positioned Google to become a mass producer of information instead of a mere indexer. They would essentially become a digital bookstore.

Yesterday the University of Michigan announced a deal with Google that extends its original contract. From the University news release, it appears that people from around the country will be able to access the scanned materials of over 8 million works “with free previews, the ability to buy access to the university’s collections online and through subscriptions at other institutions.”

What is meant by “free previews?” It sounds like users and institutions can preview a certain portion of a work, but would have to purchase subscription access to the university’s collection. I’m not sure how this arrangement differs from the current agreement, which allows internet browsers to view a few pages of a book, but not the entire work.

According to a blog report on by Richard Koman,

The American Library Association points out to Ars Technica that the Michigan deal “[is] a step, and it’s good for Michigan, but it does not provide a mechanism for all libraries to request a review of pricing.”

This is very true. The new agreement benefits the University of Michigan, but not necessarily necessarily society in general. And according to the Washington Post article,

… the settlement would also create a class that includes millions of people who will never come forward. For the majority of books — considered “orphan” works — no one will claim ownership. The author may have died; the publisher might have gone out of business or doesn’t respond to inquiries; the original contract has disappeared.

Google would get an explicit, perpetual license to scan and sell access to these in-copyright but out-of-print orphans, which make up an estimated 50 to 70 percent of books published after 1923. No other provider of digital books would enjoy the same legal protection. The settlement also creates a Book Rights Registry that, in conjunction with Google, would set prices for all commercial terms associated with digital books.

It is also very interesting to watch Google’s attempt to woo librarians by its public relations campaign. (I have not been contacted by Google yet, but may not be enough of a key player.) The American Library Association (ALA) has been receiving requests for one-on-one meetings with Google engineers and analysts. Also in the Michigan deal, libraries will have some degree of negotiation ability with Google in deciding the price of access to these books.

What is clear is that Google wants to keep on the good side of librarians, and this probably indicates a trend of descent towards Google among this particular community.


About repplinger

John has served as a Reference Librarian at Willamette University since 2002. He is the liaison to the Science Departments, and is responsible for maintaining the collections related to the life & physical sciences. His research interests range over the entire spectrum of libraries and information sciences, but includes: - Google and its influence on information & society - The Internet's influence on information seeking & sharing behaviors - Trends of scholarly communication - Electronic learning environments - Traditional pedagogy - GIS use in academic libraries

Posted on May 21, 2009, in Copyright, Education, Google, Libraries, Technology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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