As expected, Google’s plan to digitize every book ever written is coming under fire. Yesterday, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), the Association of American Publishers filed a court complaint against Google, arguing that its plan violates book publishers’ copyrights.
Note to publishers: Hello! Wake up. Quit your whining. You’re actually going to make a killing on this deal — and lord knows you need the help.
As any fool knows, it’s inevitable that all content will be digitized. The first step is to admit it, and deal with it.
Next, let history be your guide. Each time a technological breakthrough impacted media, the media adjusted — then benefited. Radio did not kill the newspaper. TV did not kill movies. The VCR did not kill TV. All of these added value, and that’s what’s happening with the Internet as it impacts every existing media form. Books will benefit greatly by being searchable in a universal database.
For one, the ease of accesss will create new interest in books. As users search book excerpts, the book — if it’s doing its job — should interest them further (as a hit single does with an album), which should lead to a purchase. More books will be sold. It’s a new marketing tool.
Second, niche books will find new audiences. At the moment, it’s very difficult for any small publisher to make a profit — too many get lost in the shuffle. Ease of access means easier connections to the target reader. Again, more books sold, more intelligent marketing.
Finally, online book content can be monetized. Publishers can be paid fees for access to copyrighted material of a certain length (provided that publishers work this out with Google — granted, that’s a big “if”). As search ads become more sophisticated and targeted, they can be used to monetize bits of searchable content. The user finds a paragraph, sees a contextual ad next to it, and the publisher collects a small royalty. As Google has proved, these can add up to a significant revenue stream.
There will surely be other ideas coming along too. Bottom line to publishers: To paraphrase Blue Oyster Cult, Don’t Fear the Future.