December 15, 2005
Mike Gunderloy recently linked to an editorial by author Susan Cheever on the legality of Google's Book Search:
Is it poignantly wrongheaded to want to get paid for my work? Is it a failure of understanding to think that when my father's short stories are read and enjoyed or made into movies, his widow should be able to profit?
I'll definitely agree that the way Google has gone about this has been remarkably heavy-handed. But I firmly believe that Google Book Search is akin to the Public Library: a clear public good. The human race gets access to more information, and the authors get a major new sales avenue for all their work. What's not to like?
Evidently a lot, from Susan Cheever's perspective. I emailed Susan to clarify her position:
But that's exactly what Google Print enables: selling more copies of your books, not less! Think of the millions of people that will find (and possibly buy) your books through a Google search-- people all over the world-- that otherwise would not even know your book existed! Only an excerpt of the book can be viewed. To get the rest, you buy the book. Probably via a link provided on the very same search result page. That's perhaps the ultimate sales tool.
Surprisingly, Susan responded to my email:
Yes, that's what they say. They say they are trying to help writers. Don't you think it's odd that they don't ask the writers first? How about the fact that they don't even want to discuss their project with the Author's Guild thus forcing us to sue? "Help" is a funny work in this context.
Which brings us back to the issue of heavy-handedness. All this led James Shaw to try Google Book Search and conclude that yes, Google is evil:
I just tried a book search for the first time. I signed in with my gmail account (never used, just reserved my name) and was able to view all the pages that I wanted to out of a random book I found. Occasionally it would tell me that I couldn't view the next page "to protect the copyright of the author" but it then allowed me to go back to the page index and choose the next page anyway. So, from my layman's point of view Google has allowed me to view any entire book still under copyright. It didn't cost me a dime.
I think James is vastly understating how incredibly annoying and inefficient it is to "read" a book this way. But what's even more interesting is a comment Mike Gunderloy posted to that entry:
I don't see Google as the villain here - indeed, I don't really think there *is* a villain, just a culmination of forces. Yes, you can still buy some of my books, and some of them are still in print. And if you buy one, thanks. But you're a vanishing breed: sales of computer books of the sort I write are, across the board, dramatically down in the past three or four years. My own diagnosis is that this is directly related to the ease of finding the same information that the books used to carry by searching on the Internet. Why pay book prices (which have also gone up hideously in those years) when you can search for free? The net result is that I have seen my royalty checks all but vanish in the last three years, to the point where I can no longer afford to write computer books. The titles that are now on the shelves are the last ones from me.
This concerns me, because Mike's books are good. They're not those narrow, throw-away tech books (Learn Visual Basic 6.0 in 24 hours!) that are obsolete in a few years anyway. I mean, it's not Code Complete -- but it's well worth buying.
I've always thought of printed books as complementary to the information available on the internet. If nothing else, they're a much more eyeball-friendly way to read a large volume of information. I wonder if the general sales decline Mike decries here applies to any genre other than programming and technology books?
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Interestingly I have done a 180, or more like a 360... hell, a 720 on the whole issue. At first I always bought a thick computer tomb, then I googled but after reading the first chapter of "Extreme Programming Adventures in C#" I found that Ron Jeffries said what I had been feeling. That googling is great for laser-focused information but you often want the same voice for more general things as well as something to hold. I'm once again back to purchasing technical books. Though I find that as before there are a lot of crap titles still.
For non-tech books though I can't imagine ever not buying the physical product. I'm a fiction junky and no way I want to drag my laptop into the tub. I also like smoking a cigar while reading out on my deck and something about reading from a laptop or PDA just destroys the mood (along with my eyes).
All that being said, Google Book Search holds no real appeal to me.
Similarly to what Shawn said, information available on the internet is mainly to research a specific issue. So I think that books that mainly serve as a reference tool are probably seeing a decline. If you want to quickly look up what members and methods are available for a XmlTextReader, it's easier and faster to google it than it is to look it up in the index of a reference book.
Of course, none of this should apply to fiction work, except for the possibly piracy of e-books. I could never do my leisure reading from an e-book though. I read God's Debris by Scott Adams in PDF form, and although I enjoyed the book, I despised reading it from a computer monitor. By the way, the only reason I downloaded that book is because he's offering it as a free download:
I don't see myself moving to all electronic anytime soon. There is something about holding a book that keeps me focused on the subject at hand. It is too easy for me to get sidetracked googling supplemental information on every topic and tangent presented by the author.
The real value held online, with regards to print books, comes from being able to read chapter exerpts and other people's book reviews. This is invaluable aid in weeding out the crap that some publishers try to pass off as good techincal writing. These are the authors that will really suffer. In other words, not every Tom, Dick and Harry (or female equivalent) is going to get rich off a book just bcause it is s about the next hot topic.
As I understood it, books were never all that lucrative anyway, except for a tiny-tiny fraction of authors with megahits.
Take it from Scott Mitchell's blog entry on this: "If your dream is to become a rich man, don't write computer trade books."
He cites the intangibles of "hey, I wrote a book" as the #1 reason to do it.
Point taken. My jab was a result of buying to many really crappy books years ago :(
Seth Godin shares interesting story about his "Unleashing the Ideavirus". Book was available for free (and still is at www.ideavirus.com), so people could read it in pdf format. Surely, not many liked that way of reading, but they did like the book, so it went to #5 in Amazon bestsellers within 48 hours
being available in dead tree format.
I am sad to hear that I won't enjoy another well written book from Mike Gunderloy. Few resources available on the internet are as good as the end result of a well written, properly researched, and effectively edited book.
I like Google. However, in this case, I strongly agree with the point of view of the Author's Guild. A public library isn't a commercial entity. This is like a library if libraries handed out photocopies of the books with paid advertisements in the margins, and told the borrower to not bother returning it.
In this interaction, the searcher is getting the author's work, Google is getting ad revenue, advertisers get clicks, and the author gets what? A free ad for the copyrighted work the searcher just read, plus the 'benefit' of a freely available digitial version of their work.
I like Google. However, in this case, I strongly agree with the point of view of the Author's Guild. A public library isn't a commercial entity.
Maybe you've hit on something here: Google *thinks* it *IS* part of the public trust! Of course, it's really just another giant corporation with a "don't be evil" slogan. That is a key difference.
Craigslist.org is another company that has a hard time thinking of itself as the corporate entity it really is. And it gets them into problems, too:
Just wanted to post my two cents that Mike Gunderloy is one of my favorite authors and I personally own several of his books, including Coder to Developer (common sense though, IMO). I find reading text in a book easier than staring at a computer screen to read (I get enough of that coding day-to-day). The LCD helps with cleartype enabled, yet I still find myself reading the book to relax and get educated on a topic.
Even with ClearType, LCDs can't compete with a book for readability. Even a cheap book on rough paper.
Perhaps if you can afford one of those 200dpi IBM screens they might. But those aren't exactly portable...
The very latest ClearType in WPF is very very good. Combined with the readability features in the new flow text layout handling, it makes an astonishing difference to how quickly you can read text and for how long on screen.
And it still doesn't come close to a really cheap book...
Speaking from a naive perspective, how much money does an author actually make on a book "sale"?
More than zero. Typically they get royalties after book sales recover the advance.
If Google Print becomes a tool that is as essential as Google Search, won't this allow the author to skip the publisher, and pocket ALL of the royalties associated with their book???
No, because Google is not paying any royalties. Google is 'paying' authors with free publicity. You can already do what you want by publishing on the web ... it implicity makes your book searchable by Google. The controversy is Google scanning copyrighted works, placing them on the web (in a limited form) and using them to make money.
What is the purpose of the Authors Guild? Are there a bunch of publishing companies in control (or in the background) who are towing the company line to allow them to stay in charge of their profit margins?
Hardly. The Author's guild is exactly what it sounds like. It lobby's for things that are in the interests of author's and provides legal help in disputes (which is typically against agents and publisher's). I'm sure not all author's agree with every action of the guild, but arguing that members should get paid for their work probably isn't controversial among the members.
No, because Google is not paying any royalties. Google is 'paying' authors with free publicity. You can already do what you want by publishing on the web ... it implicitly makes your book searchable by Google. The controversy is Google scanning copyrighted works, placing them on the web (in a limited form) and using them to make money.
But if they provide a link to a service (Amazon, etc.) Where a writer can sell the book/pdf? I suppose this amounts to advertising the book, which is not necessarily the largest expense in publishing and selling a book.
So, the only way to get Google to pay attention to the Authors Guild (who I misrepresented in my ignorance, and I apologize), is to use the nuclear option of "We don't want any books searchable!" Then, once the Authors have Google's attention, they can push toward some kind of click rewards system? e.g., Google lists relevant advertisements for a particular book search, then uses some of the profits from their ad-clicking to pay the authors of the books for a "clicked" book. I suppose this would be fraught with click fraud, but still, I hate to shut down the idea of searchable database of every book ever written.
Authors suing google over this are missing an important point - google has already made it easy to find certain information. If authors do not let them make it easy to find their print books, it is the sales of print books that will lose out, not google.
We now have the technology and infrastructure to dramatically lower the cost of information acquisition, and we are using it. We are starting to expect it, and for good reason - it works. If authors find a way to get compensated, and a place to exist in that infrastructure, then they will get paid. If they try to stick their heads in the sand, they will not.
There are no guarantees - authors may try to find a way to get paid but fail. I would not like to see that - creativity does have a cost, and we need to compensate creators. That said, I am not convinced that we need to give a copyright that can extend for decades, but that is a different debate.
In the computer book world, it is already hard to write a decent book. So many of the past books were just a slight reshuffling of the API documentation, bound and printed. These lesser books are completely dominated by a google search on that API documentation. I did not enjoy paying for hundreds of pages of out of date documentation even then, and I am not sad to see those rather poor books go.
A very small number of computer books were good - those were worth buying before, and books of their type are worth buying now. A google print search that led to them will result in sales, at least from me. A google search that leads to the same old API docs won't.
I do most of my pleasure reading from plain old dead tree paperbacks. I buy them from amazon, and I base those purchases on amazon, bn, and other reviews. I also read books in bookstores, so I have a pretty good idea of what I am getting. Google Print is a potential new avenue for me to find reading material.
The Baen Free Library has put up entire works on the net for people to read, often before the book ships. I have, I admit, read a couple of books that way, and then not bought the print book when it came out. On the other hand, I bought the entire John Ringo Posleen series based on reading the first dozen pages at the Baen Free Library. Overall, I find now that I rarely read more than a few dozen pages of a book at the BFL, just like I do at brick and mortar stores. I came to the conclusion that if I was reading 50 pages, why not just pre-order and read it in a form that can be read on an exercise bike or a recliner.
So, I hope that authors, as a class, find a way to get fair compensation in the new, easy-access-to-information world. An author who claims that this kind of excerpting is fundamentally unfair is not going to get any sympathy at all - once you published your work for profit, I should be allowed to find and evaluate it. The details need work, true, but the overall idea of using some kind of search seems pretty reasonable.
You _will_ impress me by writing books I want to read, and by finding a way to show me your books - google print, amazon, brick and mortar, or whatever else will work. Google is providing a very low cost (both in time and effort) way for me to find you.
Don't blow it.
This argument is surprisingly similar to the RIAA/mp3 battle. Speaking from a naive perspective, how much money does an author actually make on a book "sale"?
To me, it seems that Google Print could be an empowering tool for an author. One of the main reasons for having publishing companies is to get the "work" in books, and get them out the door and all over the country. Doesn't Google Print take on the role of the distribution network? If so, won't authors be able to create their texts and submit them to Google Print and skip the publisher? If Google Print becomes a tool that is as essential as Google Search, won't this allow the author to skip the publisher, and pocket ALL of the royalties associated with their book???
Now, back to naive questions (it's Monday and I don't want to look it up right now). What is the purpose of the Authors Guild? Are there a bunch of publishing companies in control (or in the background) who are towing the company line to allow them to stay in charge of their profit margins?
I recently asked a prominent political scientist I know for a book recommendation on a particular topic. She said that almost all the good, up-to-date information and commentary comes from periodicals, and most of these are available on the web. So it isnrsquo;t just geek bookshelves that are shrinking.
The latest technical book purchases Irsquo;ve made were the Ruby book http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0974514055/njonsson and the Rails book http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/097669400X/njonsson . The publisher sells both PDFs and paperbacks, although I opted for paper. Therersquo;s probably a future for technical books that are published like this in both formats simultaneously.
Shawn and others - try the ebookwise version - I think I have read over a hundred e-books since I bought it, and the ONLY (seriously!) reason I still buy some paperback books is to discover new authors worth reading. Once I discover a new author I like, I look for the electronic version of his books. (I'm talking fiction here, the ebookwise reader is not good for technical books.)
I do enjoy reading. I really appreciate it. thanks
This is ridiculous. Does they not realize that you can do the exact same thing at a bookstore? I've sat reading entire chapters that way, yet still buy good books, technical and otherwise. In my pre-teen, pre-money days, I read a few books this way. Those were not lost sales for anyone, believe me.
I almost wonder if this is EULA-logic creeping into the mainstream: people shouldn't be allowed to see something in full until they've already paid.
Coder to Developer sits on my bookshelf because I was allowed to look through it in full and weigh its quality.