The Great Google Book Search Settlement

I found an interesting bit of news linking the book world to the geek work recently in Timothy Lee’s report over at Ars Technica on remarks by Richard Sarnoff, the chairman of the Association of American Publishers, at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy.

Mr. Sarnoff pointed out that the market for downloadable books is now dominated by a single player, Amazon. He suggests that the new settlement, expected to be approved by the courts this year, will encourage Google to become a provider of electronic books in direct competition with Amazon. The settlement is a large, complex thing, and it presents high barriers to entry to organizations that are not named Google.

Among other things, the settlement creates a Book Rights Registry to collect payments from Google and distribute them to authors and publishers. Google will pay $60 for every scanned book with identifiable rights-holders. Libraries can subscribe to Google for access to books in the Google catalog, and Google will pay most of that revenue to publishers.

All this looks like Google is being positioned as an e-book vendor. E-books purchased on Google will not reside on client computers, but will instead live in the “Google cloud.” Users will access them a few pages at a time from Internet connected devices.

As a long time devotee of real books, printed on paper, I can only contemplate this with a mixture of skepticism and sadness. As described, it doesn’t sound very workable, and yet, if it does work, it will almost surely reduce the demand for books as we know them. Vive libre!

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