Monday, February 23, 2009

The Great Book Bank Robbery - As Long as Google Exists

Ars Technica reports today on the chairman of the Association of American Publishers, Richard Sarnoff’s speech at Princeton on the Google Book Search settlement. Sarnoff speculated that the agreement could effectively give Google and Amazon a "duopoly" in the online book market.

He is reported saying that some aspects of the settlement would be "difficult to replicate" for Google's competitors and that although the publishers he represents didn't set out to create a monopoly in the markets for book search engines or online book sales, the settlement could have that effect. Legal hurdles may make it infeasible for any other firms to build a search engine comparable to Google Book Search.

Sarnoff is also reported saying that the publishers pressed for the creation of this registry in part because it would be too "easy to disintermediate the publisher over time" if Google paid authors directly. This is a strange statement to make. Does this mean the settlement was driven and created to protect publishers and their self interest over authors? Some would speculate that they recognised that it was easier to do a deal and have a job than not do a deal and have no job.

The books will apparently be stored on the Google "cloud," and users will access the books they have purchased a few pages at a time using a Web-based viewer. This means that the files are not downloaded but only available online. Sarnoff said that the system Google has agreed to implement won't "involve the transfer of files." So as long as you are connected and online you can read if your not you can’t. We would not argue with the online logic and it is one we have long advocated.

We would not expect Google to walk away from Google Book Search or their cloud service. As we would not expect them to walk away from many other dead ventures such as their video store, their social network Lively, Google audio ads, Google Print Ads, the Dodgeball mobile service, Catalogue Search, Notebook and Jaiku, their answer to Twitter. . However if they did, then the books bought are likely to disappear, as access to them would be impossible. We presume the settlement includes some form of Escrow agreement and termination transfer. Sarnoff put it that users' ownership of a book will continue only "as long as Google exists."

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