About This Series
Things Publishers Fear is an occasional series about the realities of publishing in the modern era. For the record, survival is not guaranteed, nor is it always deserved.
Where to start with the fear of Google. The 12 million scanned books. Yes that will do for now!
It is not just that publishers are rightly pissed at the fact of Google’s actions (and the gall they have shown in continuing with them throughout the process of first suing and then reaching a complex and variously hated/despised/grudgingly accepted settlement) they fear the implications of Google’s actions.
Fearing the fact
When I say the fact I mean that Google has, at the very least, stretched the idea of fair use to the limit and in doing so created a tool of great value. A searchable database of all the works they can. Nothing will now put the genie BACK in the bottle. The database exists the power of publishers as possessors of that POTENTIAL database is gone, broken forever by the reality of Google Books. Search there and you’ll see its amazing capacities even if only partly, and in a hampered way, realised.
You may not think that this is important but it has created a database that publishers do not:
b) understand and
c) know how to profit from
If publishers had been involved in the creation of such a database they might have built in any number of changes, made any number of demands and would in any case have had different interests from each other, so much so that they probably would never have made this a reality (and why should they if does not benefit them?). But now they are presented with a fait accompli and one that, even with a settlement, leaves them disadvantaged and with a database that hardly favours them.
Maybe these things are their just deserts, perhaps you feel they have created this situation by failing to move with the times and invest in technology and rights databases, but this series is designed to take the publishers viewpoint and from that perspective, those three things are very worrisome indeed and justify some fear, regardless of the historical reasons for their existence.
Fearing the potential
Any sensible publisher, though, reserves their real fear for the potential of Google and its database. Google are very well placed to benefit from every digital trend you can envisage. The massive textual database they have built compliments this in innumerable ways. Mobile results can be enriched with tourist info from books, history texts and restaurant reviews, not to mention news stories from newspaper and magazine publishers (as if any content producer will escape). What is more so much of the database will contain books that singly have little of value but as a whole collection and cross-referenced are worth considerable sums (public domain works, government publications and the like).
The database brings the reality of competition with EVERY SINGLE BOOK EVER PUBLISHED into sharp focus for publishers as new books face increased real challenges from books published 10, 20, 300 years ago and in every conceivable context, on a phone, laptop, desk computer, iPad, iPod, wi-fi enable device, anything that connects to the cloud and has a screen (not to mention an increase in POD). So if the web enabled a flood of amateur (and let’s face it not always terribly good) content, Google’s books database enables a flood of real professional content that rings true with quality and which at a time when being published was harder than it is now has the stamp of publishers approval. This onslaught threatens directly the lifeblood of all publishing, the new book trade, in ways that all publishers rightly fear.
The potential of Google Books is that by supplying information from a vast accessible anywhere database you reduce the overall demand for new or fresh paid content. What’s even more frightening is that Google is a private company and access to that enormous database will be, for all intents and purposes, at their whim.
How do you like them apples? Well, as a publisher, I don’t like them much, but as William James said: “acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”