Thursday, June 25, 2009

AAP Musters Its Support


Dear Industry Colleague:

In the countdown to the October 7 court hearing on the Google Book Settlement we are encountering heated rhetoric from opponents, much of it hyperbolic and misleading. My job at AAP’s helm is not only to shepherd our membership through the coming months but to remind the industry at large that the Settlement offers enormous benefits and represents our best hope of remaining competitive and vibrant in the digital environment.

Millions of copyright-protected books are out of print and largely out of reach, available only through the largest research libraries in the country. The Google Book Settlement announced in October 2008 – the result of 30 months of negotiations between and among authors, publishers, university libraries and Google -- changes all that, working a revolution in the access to knowledge. If approved by the court, the settlement will:

• Provide readers and researchers with access to millions of out-of-print books, many of which are currently difficult or impossible for readers to obtain, in a searchable online database.

• Turn every public library building in the U.S. into a world-class research facility by providing free access to the online portal of out-of-print books.

• Permit any college or university in the U.S. to subscribe to the same rich database of out-of-print books.

• Give new commercial life to millions of books, while protecting the economic rights of authors and publishers.

If not approved by the court, the litigation between AAP, the Authors Guild and Google may continue for years, and with a great risk that authors and publishers will have no effective means to stop the widespread use of copyrighted material that is likely to follow.

In recent days some strong arguments in favor of the Settlement have appeared in print. They are all the more impressive because they come not from AAP, Google, or the Authors Guild, but from individuals who are not party to the Settlement.

One is a letter to the Financial Times from David Balto a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and former Policy Director of the Federal Trade Commission. It can be found at:

Booklovers should cheer Google’s plan

The second is a remarkably lucid piece by financial columnist (The Big Money) Mark Gimein. It can be found at:

In Defense of Google Books

The last is a statement by Paul N. Courant, Dean of Libraries at the University of Michigan. It can be found at:

Google Agreement will extend U-M libraries’ accessibility

For a better understanding of what’s at stake, I urge you to read these.

With best regards,

Tom Allen

1 comment:

Michael W. Perry said...

I can understand why some authors might find the Google settlement appealing. Hoping against hope, they see it as a way to get more publicity and perhaps more income.

What I can't understand is why a publisher, any publisher, supports this settlement. It makes no sense.

Although Tim Allen doesn't seem aware of it, he actually agrees with me. Look at his bullet list. Three of his four bullets remove almost all need to purchase these little-noticed and long out-of-print books, whether the potential purchasers are readers (#1), public libraries (#2), or colleges/universities (#3). Stripped of those markets, just who is going to be buying these books in new editions?

In reality, the now highly efficient online used book market will grab almost all the demand for printed copies generated Google's scheme. (Why buy a $15 reprint when you can get the original for $4?) And given the cost of maintaining physical stacks, frugal librarians will add their rarely read books to the used market and apply the additional income to Google's digital services, again leaving traditional publishers out in the cold.

I can give a marvelous illustration of just how little value Google's Book Search is. Do a search for "eugenics" on Amazon and a 1922 book I edited and published in an enhanced new edition comes up second. It's the second bestselling eugenics book on the world's largest online bookstore. Impressive? It ought to be. I put a lot of work into it.

I've also had that book along with four others in Google's Partners program almost since its beginning. That program is like Google Book Search with one major difference. Because authors and publishers have to volunteer to place their books in the collection and supply Google with a copy, it's a much smaller database than Book Search will be should this settlement be approved and Google's scanners go into overdrive. That means that the books I put in the Partners program are getting better exposure now than they ever will in the future.

How does my second-bestselling book fare with Google? Last time I checked, it came up #78, meaning near the bottom of the eighth web page. Essentially, it's invisible. Few if any researchers will wade through page after page of badly organized trash to get to my book, historically important because it was one of the few book-length criticisms of eugenics during its heyday and eminently readable because it was written by G. K. Chesterton, one of the best writers in early 20th century England.

That's why I'm not sure I've ever sold a copy of Eugenics and Other Evils because it comes up in Google's book search. What really sent sales up to #2, was a strong recommendation by Michael Crichton in his last novel.

Google, I tell authors and fellow publishers, is an excellent way to promote books. But you sell books by creating books worth reading, then letting Google's web search engines find web pages you have created that make them want to buy.

Compared to that, Google's hideously out-sized, badly organized, and ugly book search scheme is worse than worthless. Adding more titles to it, millions of them if Google gets its way, will only make matters worse. Quantity will never trump quality.

--Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle

P.S. You might also want to "Google" for news on the settlement from Europe. Numerous publishers in the UK and Germany are now on record as strongly opposing the settlement. They're ahead of us in understanding what it really means.