Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Google Settlement

As I'm sure you've now heard, Google has settled the dispute with the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers, which (theoretically) clears the way for Google to begin making books that are still under copyright searchable and available online.


We're all still digesting what this means for authors and publishers, but the landscape has now shifted drastically. Not only do we have the Kindle and Sony Reader changing the way people read, but Google will soon be selling access to hard-to-find books online, which will alter the used book market forever. And that's just the start.

It's now not very difficult to envision a world where every book ever published is instantly available on your phone, e-reader or PDA.

Every. Book. Ever. Published.

And not just online. Want a physical copy? Press a button and a POD edition could go in the mail to you that day.

It's not there yet, and Google still has a ways to go to bring on board books that they haven't yet cleared with the rightsholders. But that's the direction things are moving.

I was going to do a more thorough breakdown on all this, but 1) things are busy and 2) the Millions posted a seriously brilliant and thorough post on the ramifications of the settlement.

READ THIS. Seriously. This is big news, and it's the best summary I've read of what this all means.


Adaora A. said...

Is it wrong to be scared? I'm kind of baffled as to how they wone this landmark case. When the door is creaked open people with this ability can find a way to push it all the way. This is very scary to me indeed (and I'm not even published - yet.)

They say the road to hell was paved with good itentions.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

that's kind of cool AND scary, but hardly surprising. Everything is now online. Even the music industry has given up to fighting music online and has now embraced it. So has Hollywood with films and DVDs.

so i'm not surprised that books are now being targetted, too.

David said...

We also have to understand (as I argue here) that specialized e-book readers have no future.

Not too long from now, all e-books will be readable on a number of convenient general-purpose devices. At that point, Google will have an immense impact on book buying/reading habits.

Ulysses said...

An interesting turn of events, especially in light of yesterday's "free?" discussion.

It's great that old books will remain available (even the bad ones?). It's great that the copyright owners of those books will be compensated accordingly.

For research, this will be a tool of unequalled value. For pleasure reading, though, I really can't tell how this direction will affect things.

Ulysses said...

Argh. "Equaled." Not "Equalled."

spinregina said...

Embrace change. There is enough to go around.

Furious D said...

Call me a luddite, but I'll never give up going to used bookstores to look for out of print stuff even if it is available on Google.

Because there's something you get when you're physically looking through stacks that you can't get on the internet. The spontaneous random discovery.

I love those. You're not expecting them, and they may have nothing to do with the books you were originally looking for, but they're a wonderful discovery nonetheless.

Google will have its uses, but I won't give up on the old way, it's been too good to me so far.

Katie Alender said...

This is all ignoring the larger alarmist viewpoint that nobody reads anymore.

Also, the even larger one that when the alien overlords come, we won't have any power, so those with hard copies of books will be the only ones with access to knowledge. If, at that point, humanity still knows how to read.

Things like this always work themselves out. We just have to change with the times, I guess.

JES said...

Furious D: I wouldn't say that makes you a Luddite (look where you posted the comment, after all).

But it DOES seem that the reason you and I prefer all the sensory gratifications of going to a bookstore, handling books, and so on -- the reason for that is: we've always done it that way. We know that way.

The 2009 New Year's Baby (wherever s/he is born) will have no first-hand knowledge of our experience and, in 20 years, will probably be able to list a dozen reasons why we were nuts ever to have resisted change as long as we did.

(JES, obviously in an umber mood)

Other Lisa said...

Okay, I'm a little sleep-deprived and slightly under-caffeinated, but from the MILLIONS post, this would seem to be pretty much an unqualified Good Thing, especially in light of Nathan's comments yesterday about how authors aren't compensated for used books. Under Google's model, they will be.

Now, here's what I would do to keep bookstores in the equation: I'd have them get one of those Espresso machines - aren't those the book-making machines? So when you want a POD of a Google book, you could walk to your local bookstore and you could print the copy there, and the bookstore would share in the revenue.

Everybody wins.

Professor Tarr said...

This settlement is game changing to be sure. In 2001, I co-authored a biography of animator Ub Iwerks that was published by Disney. It did not sell particularly well (for a variety of reasons) and is regularly deemed as unavailable or out-of-print by the online sellers. What this means is that some researcher will now be able to access information from my book without purchasing a used copy or going to a library that has it in its holdings. They merely have to go online and purchase it from Google. That's kind of nice.

Knowing my mouse as I do, there will probably be some reciprocal agreement set up wherein Disney Publishing gets some moneys from the Googleplex for that access. For me personally, since our initial contract did not specifically contain these kinds of publishing options, I will probably garner little or no royalty therein, and expect none.

I'm pretty much okay with that.

At this stage in my book's lifecycle, I am happy to see it still being occasionally utlized and referenced. Had I written a more profoundly moving book that had more continual relevance to the modern day world, it would still be in print. That's my challenge as a writer and truly that's the reality of it for me.

I see the upside of this settlement as it being an absolutely invaluable tool for research - especially for journals and compilations and the like. But I also believe that authors will eventually negotiate rights more specifically in their contracts to cover these types of efforts for the perpetuity of an online life.

Ultimately, the bottom line for me is that if I am worried about compensation for my current work - such as the novel for which I am currently sending out queries - it has to be of a quality sufficient to ensure that it remains in print for a long, long time with many editions and variations.

Fortunately, I believe very strongly that it is.

Erik said...

I suppose it's best to consider it inevitable and accept it. It's hard to have strong opinions about things you just know are going to happen.

Marilyn Peake said...

The future is here, no doubt. When Google’s plans were initially made public, I found one of their statements quite alarming: they felt that all books should be made available for free, in eBook format, to readers. I found it amazing that they could take a stand like that when they planned to make money by providing ads on the pages of digitized Google books! I was very thankful when the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers took Google to court to iron out details that would protect writers and publishers. At the same time, I was amazed that many small publishers and small press authors were flocking to Google to have their books entered into their program without realizing the potential consequence that all books would be free but Google would make money by charging for advertising on book pages. It will be interesting to see where this all goes. If books eventually make money only by courting their own advertisers, I would imagine that this could even more severely limit the types of books being published.

Miss Viola Bookworm said...

I'm with Furious D. I love to buy my own copies of books. I love going to bookstores. My friends and I meet there (just did the other night) to peruse the books, find new titles, have a coffee, etc. For nerdy people like me, there is just something comforting about being in a bookstore or a library. And when it comes to owning my own books, well, I've been known to purchase a new copy of an old favorite every now and then. I suspect I will always do so.

I also agree somewhat with with jes said, but remember, the 2008 baby is still being read to with an actual book, and for years to come, people will continue to read to children with actual books and not kindles. So yes, the children today are exposed to different technology, but they still will always be read to with a book.

This makes me think about how this topic has come up so many times on this blog and others, yet children's books aren't menttioned. We're always stating our preferences and whether or not we will read actual books or something on a kindle/computer, etc., but what about the children? I don't see myself snuggling with the kiddos at night with a kindle when we read Ramona Quimby. I'm a teacher, and I don't see teachers sitting in front of a classroom without the actual copy of Charlotte's Web in their hands. So yes, the younger generations will be more accustomed to the possibility of books in this format, but I don't think books will ever be gone. Or, at least, let's hope not. A kindle version of Where the Wild Things Are just doesn't seem that appealing to me.

Glenn said...

I'm mixed on this topic.

I've had two books published, and barely anyone bought them, which was fine. So I'm guessing that this move will allow more people to find out about my book.

I mean, I'm with Furious D in that I'm still going to go to bookstores. Going to a bookstore for me is like trying to figure out what I'm going to have for dinner ... I'll go through different options and then choose one.

Google seems to be another option. A problem, as adaora brings up, will be the people that try to push the envelope past what Google will do.

Again, I'll probably read the analysis again just to make sure. But I think I'll still have a mixed feeling.


boxofficegirl said...

Exactly Miss Viola! How on earth can you snuggle up at night with a Kindle, or cuddle up with your children without the hands on appeal that a great big picture book spread across your knees gives?
I just read our youngest her bedtime story and she loves going back through the pages herself. It's not just about the visual, I firmly believe that the feel and smell of a book can never be replaced.
Technology is a wonderful thing of course but give me a great big shaggy, beast of a book any day of the week!

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Nathan, if publishing is so dead, why are Amazon and Google fighting so hard to control it?

(and no, that's not a rhetorical question, believe it or not.)

Professor Tarr said...

I think the warm and fuzzy part is entirely dependent upon the nature of the book. If I am sitting next to the fire on a cold Wisconsin evening with one foot on the hearth and the other under my dog, Spanky, I'm definitely going to want to have a physical book in the hand that's not swirling a steaming good Irish Coffee. I've got me a hankering for a good ol' Upton Sinclair muckraking yarn right about now, so I'm all set.

It's that whole biophilia thing that E.O. Wilson wrote of so eloquently. We all have warm and positive feelings of things organic. Paper is organic. It feels of wood and nature and there is something in the elemental sense of that which can not be replicated in cold, smooth Kindlese. I would never consider reading a novel in a digital form. I simply wouldn't. It would not feel right.

But that being said, I am currently trying to track down the film studio where animation pioneer Daniel Tattenham once filmed western star Pete Morrison in the 1920s. I have found a book that mentions both - and I'm guessing it is one paragraph or at the most one page in length. The book is still copyright protected but out of print. It will take me a while to inter-library loan it - if they can find it at all. And it would be sheer luck that I find it on ebay or Amazon (it IS on one of them, but for an unwieldy price of $79!) Which is a little hard to swallow for info that I may or may not already have. But I'd certainly drop a buck or two for access online. That goes even moreso for sheer reference books/guides, etc.

The world that was once deemed not large enough for both newspapers and radio is certainly large enough for electronic and print media. Those of us who adore the stacks of our local used bookstore, will survive just fine. And we'll Mapquest our way to get there.

Elyssa Papa said...

I don't know what to think... I don't have a good feeling about it, so that's a clue. It's definitely going to change the landscape of publishings and authors' books. I don't know. It seems... fishy to me.

lotusloq said...

I'm with Professor Tarr. The research ramifications are incredible and I would pay for the privilege of not having to drive all over to find a book that may or may not have the info I need.

I personally wouldn't want to read a novel sitting at the computer or in a digitized form. I love the paper and the binding and the cover and all that goes with reading the physical book.

It scares me that by the time I have my novel ready to go there will be no place to publish it--except free online. After almost a year of working on it, I would like at least a little money for all my efforts. (Of course, that's assuming it's good enough for publishing, but that a whole nother kettle of fish.)

K.S. Clay said...

I think it's cool because it will give writers a share of the used book market which they don't usually get. So that's helpful. Also, it is difficult to track down a lot of out of print books and when you do a lot of times they are ridiculously overpriced. Especially for research purposes, this looks like it could end up being helpful to readers as well as to writers.

What's to be scared of? Books that are in print and still under copyright aren't available as more than samples. And samples are great. I'm often drawn in by samples to purchase books, and Google provides links to sellers along with the samples so that you can buy the book if you like the sample.

Lupina said...

Wearing my researcher's hat, I say, woohoo!
Wearing my author's beret, I nervously chew my nails. Not sure if it will help or hurt income.
Wearing my businessperson's bow tie, I wonder whether this will make privately offered e-books more palatable to a public equipped with Kindles and used to getting their reading yaya's online?

benwah said...

Goodness, I don't understand the fear.

Increased access is good as is the fact that Google & the publishers can work together to generate revenue (some of which may even filter back to the author) for out-of-print books. Is there a chance for piracy? Sure, but that exists for any new technology. This seems a great compromise which benefits readers, publishers and authors.

Has digital music crushed the music industry? It has certainly changed it, but it seems rather robust to my untrained, uh, ear.

liquidambar said...

From a legal perspective, I'm just wondering if this was a class-action lawsuit, and if so, did anyone opt out. And how would this settlement agreement apply to future authors who were not part of the class when it was established?
I'm guessing that ultimately, this will all be legislated somehow. The copyright laws will continue to change, but they will lag behind the technology, as laws usually do ...

Zoe Winters said...

I'm not really sure what the argument is about, even after reading that. I wouldn't think Google would have the legal right to sell or distribute any book in any format that the publisher/copyright holder of that book hadn't already agreed to. I mean Amazon can't just sell my books if I don't put them in the Amazon system.

Can someone make this make a little more sense to me?

A Paperback Writer said...

Wow. Great article on that link.
Thanks, Nathan.
From the POV of a post-grad student doing research, this is a little slice of heaven. Wonderful, wonderful.
From the POV of a book adict, this is still fabulous news.
From the POV of a wannabe author, uh, I don't know yet. I'll wait and see.

Dara said...

I don't think printed books will ever go away completely. There are still too many of us who love going to bookstores and having something with actual paper pages.

I personally don't like reading e-books. I don't really like the idea of needing a power source like electricity or batteries to be able to read something. Perhaps this stems from realizing we're really too dependent on electricity/batteries, especially after being without power for over a week about a month ago. The only thing I was able to do then was read from an actual book (by candlelight, which is not easy). My husband's Palm Pilot died after a few days and he couldn't charge it back up until he was able to take it to work where there was electricity.

That and I'm not fond of having an entire library stored on something that can crash too easily. I'd rather have a library full of hardcover and paperbacks. True, a fire or some sort of natural disaster could destroy them, but it's far more likely for a Kindle, computer, Palm, etc. to crash than that happening.

Court said...

Sounds like good news to everyone but middlemen who can't adjust with the time.

The trick for the unpublished writer, though, is still going to be to get a horse in the game to start with.

Elton A.R. Alwine said...

I think this is completely cool. I will never stop purchasing books whether it be from my favorite Barnes and Noble or the Book Thing.

Now you're telling me that soon I'll be able to download a book on my phone so that I can read it in the bathroom, or on a plane? Cool. I mean awesome!

I'm going to continue to fill my bookshelves, so I'm not threatened at all by this.

Print will never be dead. Well, you know what I mean...

Stacey said...

I agree with elton! I will never stop buying books. I think this is cool that we can get out of print, uncopywrited stuff, but the other stuff I think should stick to going to someplace where it allows you to pay for a download. That only seems fair...not that I'll ever do it, since I am a book-in-hand junkie.

freddie said...

I don't think this is going to change people's book buying habits as much as it will add to the ways they can obtain a book.

Professor Tarr said...

In my 2003 book, Bungee Jumping & Cocoons, I apply a couple of Faith Popcorn's philosphies to the proposition of bookselling. I use the example of Barnes & Noble bookstores, vs Both are best-of-class ventures for what they are, but both have diverse markets and publics.

The bookstores have become ever more experiential. They are actual events when you go. Big, diverse lovely stacks. Fake fireplaces, leather seating, tinkly new age music, author readings and signings, and Starbucks. They want you to linger. To have a Disney-type experience there. You don't have to even buy anything (but you will). You can browse in the wide aisles. Enjoy the wood shelving. Look at the pithy pics of Steinbeck and Kerouac and wander. If you need help, there are lovely assistants with voices right out of NPR to ably guide your journey and then get out of the way.

Or conversely, if you want to avoid the people, the traffic, the hubbub of the mall - you can simply stay wrapped in the cocoon of your own home and order some lovely books online. Next day or so - they will be delivered. Or if you have an electronic reader, you can download with immediacy.

They are addressing both kinds of markets and this settlement will play into that secondary cocooning aspect quite well. In fact, it will offer the one thing that bn can not - out of print books. That is a plus to the reader and to us as authors - either intellectually or fiscally or hopefully both.

Either way, the words we write will have a longer, more fulfilled journey than otherwise they might have had.

Kylie said...

As a researching student, great.
As a reader, eh---I'm sentimental about physical books.
As an aspiring author, scared.

How will this affect published authors, like all us hopefuls reading the blog? I'm having a hard time finding anything definite on the subject of new books. Will they be available on Google Books? How will this affect new authors?

Any imformation is much appreciated, by Nathan or anyone else.

Cate said...

No no no no no!

This would be a landmark moment for literature and culture as a whole if not for one thing- the complete monopoly of the industry by Google.
They are going to "set their own prices". Great. One single company can now dictate the value of all of the billions of dollars of product in the entire industry.

This is so similar to what Google is trying to do with the Orphan Works Bills they keep pushing towards congress.
It's really just an attempt to sweep up vast, vast amounts of material for free, and sell it off while undercutting, or simply eliminating, any appropriate compensation to the artist or author who actually produced the work. They are trying to rewrite copyright law to favor only themselves.

Think about it. Really.
One single company owning the rights to ALL intellectual property IN THE WORLD.

Briane P said...

I think opening up publishing like this can only help; have you seen how many bands have had a shot at fame and contracts and money because music became more portable? With mp3s becoming big, bands were able to record and publicize their music without a recording contract, spreading the word about how great they were (a la Arctic Monkeys) and bypass record companies, at least at first.

Why should it be any different with authors? Why can't you write your novel and have it available POD and if it becomes a big deal then a publisher could buy the rights and spread it more to the mass market?

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

A few weeks ago I received an email from Google Books, thanking me for applying and giving me detailed instruction on how to submit my material.

The trouble is, I don't recall asking for the opportunity. Did they send this to all published authors?

I waded through the legalese and got bogged down. Send them a copy of my book? Nuh. I have to pay for them.

I gave up. When my brain unscrambles, I'll look into it with more vigour.

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