Google Books and Libraries

Google is doing something very interesting with books (see Google Book Search), and it is likely that they are going to spring some surprises on us this year. The Guardian’s Vic Keegan had an insightful piece on this at the weekend. Keegan is the kind of journalist who gets behind the press releases (see his account of how to get your book self-published with Lulu). He gets his finger on the pulse.

But about one thing Vic Keegan is off-beam. He says:

Books are different from videos, emails and photographs, because for current
titles it is necessary to do deals with a comparatively small number of big
publishers rather than millions of individual users.

Which is sort of true. But it certainly does not follow, as he implies, that it will be easier for Google to negotiate with a few commercial publishers, than it would be to harness the energy of millions of web users. Most of the big publishers hate what Google is doing. Jonathan Rée, has written a thoughtful piece on the Google Book project in the current issue of Prospect, we also have a trial issue here. It is an excellent article and a brilliant magazine. I recommend a subscription.

Rée makes clear that the key advantage of the Google project is that it will allow the instantaneous searching of whole libraries of information. It is a curious fact that the Google project is really a Library project, so it is really misnamed as Google Book Search. Searching books is pretty straightforward. Searching all of the published literature is the Google goal – terabytes of information: the Library of Congress, The British Library and more. I am not sure whether the publishers who are worrried by this would be more worried, or pacified if Google were more explicit about the hugely ambitious goal. Oddly enough, its for the very reason that this hugely ambitious goal is so valuable and enlightening that for this very reason the wishes of millions of web users, who sense that searching complete libraries is completely feasible, may begin to count and Google will in the end be able to persuade the handful of mega-publishers that it is a good idea.