John Battelle’s The Search and Google Book Search
While I was writing a review (to appear soon) of John Battelle’s prescient book The Search, I noticed something on the copyright page. Here it is:
This warning seems directly aimed at Google Book Search, a project which intends to scan the collections of some of the world’s great libraries and make them searchable online. Now you can find similar language on the copyright page of lots of books but John Battelle is a known strong supporter of the value of having almost everything searchable as anyone who reads either his book or his blog knows.
So I emailed John and asked him about the apparent contradiction. He said the decision was the publisher’s (Penguin) decision to make but “I totally disagree with it.” Of course, at the time he signed his contract with Penguin, no one knew that this issue would exist. He readily agreed to talk to me it.
Q: “Why didn’t Penguin want your book to be in Google Book Search?”
John: “They’re suing Google over Book Search. They’re part of the Publisher’s Association suit.”
Q: “What are they afraid of?”
John: “They’re afraid of the future. Afraid of what they don’t know…. It’s very irritating to me.”
Q: “Do you think that the warning in the front of the book will deter Google from scanning your book or will Penguin have to specifically opt out of Book Search for this title?” [nb. Google has said that it will honor specific requests from publishers to have works currently under copyright excluded.]
John said that he didn’t know for sure but, if this warning were enough to deter Google, then the publishers probably wouldn’t feel they had to sue. They are objecting that they have to opt out title by title to keep their books from being scanned.
Q: “How do you think this issue will be resolved in the far future – not the lawsuit but the underlying issue?”
John: “Publishers should be service providers and let authors make these decisions.” He went on to say that, now that the Internet and fast computers exist, you don’t need to make decisions like this en masse; you don’t need huge corporate entities making a one-size-fits-all decision.; authors themselves can choose from a myriad options. This one of the principles of his newly formed Federated Media.
Q: “How will you handle rights for your next book?”
John: “Differently.” He did say he hasn’t written it yet. I’m sure he’ll blog about it when he does.
Just to be clear, as John knows, Google Book Search is carefully designed NOT to be a replacement for buying a book. It is a way to SEARCH the entire contents of a book and get back some context around the search term. It has been carefully designed so that reading a book on Book Search is, if not impossible, extremely unpleasant and much more difficult than buying the book. Moreover, when you find a book with text that matches your search term, Google helps you find your way to a physical copy of the book by saying where it purchased and what libraries it’s at.
Many of the FAQs around Book Search are to explain to readers that there are many things they can’t do because Search is meant for searching and NOT for reading.
Publishers can submit books to Google in order to get them quickly into Book Search and make sure there are the proper promotional links. We did that with hackoff.com: an historic murder mystery set in the Internet bubble and rubble (it’s here on Book Search) but that was an easy decision given that we serialized it and its podcast free on the Internet anyway. Although there are disadvantages to self-publishing, freedom from publisher-restraints is not one of them.
What the publishers object to is that Google is also scanning the contents of some libraries including books which have NOT been submitted by the publishers and ARE still under copyright. Google describes what they’re doing this way:
“When you click on a search result for a book from the Library Project, you'll see the Snippet View which, like a card catalog, shows you information about the book plus a few snippets – a few sentences of your search term in context. You may also see the Sample Pages View if the publisher or author has given us permission or the Full Book View if the book is out of copyright. In all cases, you'll see 'Buy this Book' links that lead directly to online bookstores where you can buy the book."
It’s hard to imagine that many authors will object to having their books made more discoverable in this way. It’s strange NOT to find the premier book on search in this huge catalog. Makes the last sentence of Penguin’s prohibition – “Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.” – seem particularly hypocritical.
[Full disclosure: this blog, Fractals of Change, is a member of the authors’ network Federated Media which was founded and is run by John Battelle.]