Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Great Book Bank Robbery - What Do You Want To Be when You Grow Up?

A question we often ask children, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ We often ask the same of businesses who appear to be spreading their bets across several opportunities. We could now ask ourselves and Google exactly what the book settlement will look like if it is allowed to mature. What started out as a case action against copyright infringement is now clearly turning into something that if unchecked could morph into a category killer. Some will rub their hand s and say it will be for the good of all, others are desperately holding up warning cards and Google’s response is to ask if anyone could have done better!

Many predicted that Google aimed to be a bookseller – the finally declared their hand and the implications are still not really being thought through. Many saw the obvious link through to print on demand and to move into physical books and to further exploit the assets they acquire for chump change. Many saw the dangers to the library infrastructure and the potential danger of ‘loose pricing arrangements’, but many blindly appear to trust strangers bearing gifts. Many saw the need for a rights registry and welcomed the impetus to initiate the move, but we have already seen who really owns it and their ability to change even the construct of it while it is being deliberated in what some would say is an attempt to merely get their way. Many saw the emerging conflict with digital aggregators and service providers but dismiss this as mere commerce and forget the investment and legitimate route that these took. Will they go the full circle and become a publisher? We doubt it but a facilitator of self publishing may well appeal and who can stand in their way?

What prompted us to write once again about what we named last October as ‘The Great Book Bank Robbery’?

Google recognises that simply digitizing the world's books is merely the key to the door, exploiting them and ‘sweating the asset’ in every conceivable manner including turning them back into print pages is the real goal. Google will provide some 2m out-of-copyright book titles to the On Demand Books partnership. This may double the service’s inventory today but what about tomorrow? We talk about the Amazon, Google battle but what about the Ingram, Google one in areas such as print on demand and digital distribution? Depending on the outcome of the US Justice Department's investigation into the Google Books project, they could soon get access to a further stash of 'orphan' book titles. It is expected that they will raise a number of concerns with the settlement but charm and platitudes will no doubt follow from all parties to the deal. We may all dispute the number of orphan works but the issue has never been about whether this was one or 6 million the question was about the exclusivity, the clear breach of their current legal status and now even what can be done with them once the flood gates are released.

On Demand Books will obviously benefit and retailers with the machine will wonder about the franchise sitting on their floor alongside the coffee one and what is the real draw and who owns the customer. The Google Books titles will go on sale through the machine at a recommended retail price of USD8. From this, On Demand Books and Google will each take an estimated USD1 cut, with USD3 going on materials and the remaining USD3 profit going to the retailer that houses the machine. Google claims that it will donate its share of the profits to charity.

So as we take it all in and await the next announcement partnership we ask once again what Google's Book Settlement wants to be when it grows up? We are reminded of that thoughtful presentation on the subject by Larry Lessing ‘Lessing’s Thoughts on the Google Book Settlement’ . Perhaps we should all be mindful of tiger cubs, they may look like kittens, act like kittens but grow up to be something very different!

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