Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sold! Google to pay $125 million for scanning rights

You've have probably already heard the news: Google has agreed to settlement terms with the Association of American Publishers and the Author's Guild with regard to their lawsuit accusing Google of copywrite infringement with regard to the Google Book Search project. 

Trying to parse the 200+ plus page document nearly gave me a cerebral hemmorhage. So, I will leave it up to you to do it for yourself. (The settlement docs are online here, authors can see what they are entitled to here; they try to explain it in layman's terms here.) 

The short version is that Google is going to set aside $125 million to settle claims against it from authors, publishers, agents and others whose books have been or will be digitized.  A large chunk of that -- $34.5 million -- will go towards a Book Rights Registry, essentially a rights database, that will help clear claims. Anotehr $15.5 million to the AAP for their claims; oh, and don't forget the lawyers -- they get up to $30 million for their services on behalf ot the AAP and AG.

My initial reaction is that the sums invoved for the rights to digitize individual books are quite modest -- just $60 a title, going up to $300, with some additional cabbage if you agree to make your book available to institutional subscribers. 

My second reaction is that Google got off cheap -- $125 million is pocket change for what the company estimates will shortly amount to a database of 20 million books. (They say they already have 7 million digitized). Nearly a decade ago,  Questia.com -- a company in my hometown of Houston -- burned through $110 million to digitize just 35,000 books and at one time needed a full time staff of over 300 people to do it. (Questia.com still exists,  though it remains fairly obscure.)

What's more is that Google.com have, with this agreement, fully insinuated themselves into the publishing process. Publishers, authors and agents will have to decide -- "Do we play with Google? And, if so, what do we get in return? (Ah, those poor agents. Good luck in figuring out the settlement for yourselves -- I hardly think the 15% of $300  will be worth the effort.)

Perhaps most important of all is how this cements Google as the industry leader in the distribution of digital books. Sure, there's Amazon with it's Kindle...and the Sony E-reader...each with hundreds of thousands of titles availlable. But what happens when Google links its open source Android operating system -- now powering cellphones -- to the Google Book Search? You will, quite literally, have a library in the palm of your hand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"You will, quite literally, have a library in the palm of your hand."

A library that will probably be very hard to read. Somehow the thought of page scans on a small screen just doesn't appeal. Even if reading applications provide magnifying features, the amount of sideways scrolling involved would be considerable. The OCR text available from Google may or may not be readable, depending on the age of the original.

Many people seem to forget the difference between electronic text, which can be reflowed and which is what Kindle and the Sony Reader provide, and possibly incomplete page scans with raw OCR, which is what Google provides.

Juliet Sutherland
Distributed Proofreaders