28 October 2008
Today we begin to see the business model behind Google Book Search. Google announced a settlement in the lawsuit brought by the Authors Guild, the Association of American Publishers, some individual authors against Google Book Search. Amazingly enough, it not only leaves Google Book Search intact, but to my eye it seems to expand its offerings substantially. It almost appears that Google used the suit as an educational opportunity and convinced authors and publishers that the service Google could offer would be a win/win for all. Of course, they also paid $125M for the scans they made without permission (but that money goes toward setting up a Book Rights Registry which will try to determine who owns the copyright to out-of-print books so that they can be paid for any sales).
If this works, then the “snippets” will disappear from the out of print results; instead we will see full page results. Furthermore, for a (yet to be determined) price, we will be able to license access to the full books and put them on our Google “bookshelf.” That price is a key to the business model and the agreement, I’m sure. Suddenly authors and publishers have a way to “monetize” the “long tail” of the out of print catalog. That’s pretty revolutionary.
Now the urgency of Google’s effort to scan every work in some major libraries begins to make sense. With the competing Microsoft-led effort already hitting the skids it looks like Google will have some time to polish this model before the competition gets tough.
Of course, this agreement still has to be ratified by the court, so it may not be the shape of what is to come. Keep an eye on this space.
UPDATE: Harvard University Libraries opt out of the deal for many interesting reasons.