Of Google, Books, & Alexandria

google_book[Sorry, previous version of this got cut off and I didn’t know it]

I know, I know.  I shouldn’t.  But I do.  I trust Google.  Really.  They are a great company that gives great products for free and really seems to care about their customers.  Yes, it is creepy they know so much about me, but their mission statement is akin to “we want to organize the world’s information.”  To do that wonderful, good, and noble task, one needs resources.  For Google, that’s advertising, and I feel that the information they know about me is a means to an end rather than some weird technoglomeration scheme to take over the world.

That’s why I didn’t have a problem with Google’s plan to scan the world’s books and post them online (and searchable).  God knows how many times I’ve been reading a book and have longed to press the non-existent “Ctrl + F” function to just look for a keyword.  Also, I’ve hated Amazon’s posturing of themselves as a future monopoly of the ever growing market of E-Book readers.  With proprietary formats, proprietary hardware, and a proprietary means of distribution, Amazon is fixing to rape the publishing industry of all that is left making it a worthy venture.

That’s why they’re scared and have joined other companies like Yahoo in a lawsuit against Google, to prevent them from creating a digital library of all the world’s books, most of which would be downloadable for free in formats that most other e-Book readers can in fact use (but the Kindle cannot).  So, in short, Google wants to exert huge resources to provide us with both incredible access to information and to save Capitalism as we know it in the literary world.

But, in the wrangling over this deal, a judge has indefinitely postponed the settlement of the issue.  I really want to see this deal go through.  It is just such an incredible opportunity for us on every level.  What has stoked my passion over this?

This wonderful article by Tim Wu of Slate magazine outlining the legal issues involved here. He writes:

…if the settlement dies, it will be researchers, not Google, who will be hurt. It’s unlikely that anyone else will take on a money-losing project to scan millions of low-value volumes. If the Justice Department pushes too hard now, one day we’ll be asking, “Who lost Book Search?”… A delivery system for books that few people want is not a business one builds for financial reasons. Over history, such projects are usually built not by the market but by mad emperors. No bean counter would have approved the Library of Alexandria or the Taj Mahal…[So] if you want to put Google in its place, the book project is the wrong way to do so…To punish Google by killing Book Search would be like punishing Andrew Carnegie by blowing up Carnegie Hall.

In short, we have an opportunity to build the new Library of Alexandria; except this time, it is a searchable, downloadable, bigger, and more comprehensive library that will be available to children, the poor, the third world, the rural, the scholar, researcher, and the like. As the article says, historically, projects like this are more the product of crazy geniuses than government intervention. It should be done. It should be supported. And it should be done now.

The bigger danger here (I think) is Amazon, not Google. Google is actually trying to open the market, while Amazon is trying to close it. Google is trying to accomplish a noble mission, Amazon is trying to make a profit. Google is trying to let little known books and authors get distribution, exposure, and money (if they want); Amazon is trying to market the corner so they can dictate prices to publishers in order steal money from authors, and fix their prices lower. Google is not the enemy here. They are willing to lose so much money and do pain-staking work to bring future inevitabilities to the present.

Do I think this little blog post will save Google Book search? No. But I’m just doing my part to hopefully change one or two people’s minds, maybe inspire someone else to right a blog post or talk to their friends, or perhaps just cause a conversation that might be the proverbial butterfly flutter helping to bring about a hurricane we all will ultimately benefit from.

Save Google Book Search.

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