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Google Books Rescues the Backlist
Many ignore boycott call at London Book Fair
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2006-03-10 13:58 (KST)   
At the London Book Fair there was a lot of interest in the Google Books Project to make book titles easier to find on the Web through scanning the complete content for searching and sampling. The three seminars were full, and the stand was busy throughout the show. There had been a call for publishers to boycott Google in protest at the project, but there was no sign of any lack of interest from publishers or agents.

Google has two major projects involving books. The Library Project will scan the estimated 80 percent of books in libraries that are out of print and usually also out of copyright. This currently involves the Harvard, Michigan, Stanford, and Oxford University libraries and the New York Public Library. The Book Search Project involves more cooperation from publishers, who supply either a complete book for scanning or a PDF of the contents. Searches on Google Books show up to 20 percent of the content and give links to online and local booksellers as well as to the publisher's own site.

The case studies presented showed that this could work well, particularly for books that are not well known. William Shepherd spoke about Osprey Publishing and their books on military history. Since June, 2005, they have had 1,263 titles on Google Book Search with about 500,000 page views. The conversion to purchases is about 1 percent. Of this, about 40 percent is through Amazon and about 30 percent direct to Osprey. Web sales are expected to increase to about 30 percent of total, making a backlist viable for titles that would otherwise remain out of print. There may later be an option to download a PDF for titles where a reprint is not justified. Print quantities are often around 300, so the sales through Google Book Search could make a crucial difference.

In the week before the Book Fair, Nigel Newton, of Bloomsbury Publishing, called on all readers of the Guardian to boycott Google in protest at the threat to literature. Alarmed at the extent of free content on the Web, Newton argued that the threat to publishers would damage any future investment in new writing. He also objected to the placing of advertising close to literature, speculating that a search on To The Lighthouse might result in an ad for do-it-yourself adventure holidaymakers. Bloomsbury titles such as the Harry Potter series are well enough known so they may not need any complex search system to be publicized.

The Google stand was one of the busiest, however. There was a constant stream of people checking out the procedure for registering books. Jens Redmer, director of Google Book Search in Europe, told the Bookseller Daily, "It's absolutely necessary we take the chance to educate the market and to keep reiterating and explaining everything we do and why we do it." Redmer believes that the initial print run for many books tends towards the hundreds, not thousands. Typically, the author has to find a way of marketing the book."

Jens Redmer, Google Book Search Europe
©2006 MMKH
At a meeting on how to publicize a book on the web, Paul Orr, from the Friday Project, claimed that Google was a definite benefit. Many people are just searching for information and may not realize they need a book. Bethanne Patrick explained that AOL now puts sports books on the sports pages and throughout the site. For many people the Web is the first point of reference, and book selling needs to find a way to reach them.

This panel was also reassuring on the danger of lost sales. There is no evidence that anyone would print out 400 pages to save U.S.$10. If the sample content is convincing, a book format would still be chosen for a longer read.

The main show had almost no promotion for ebooks. These had been heavily promoted between 2000 and 2002, but in 2006 there was only an "e-content pavilion," intended for academic libraries. Academic journals are now published online, and there are many reference works as part of a database. It is a mystery why the academic library market will accept online publishing, but the general market appears to have rejected it. The International Digital Publishing Forum, formerly the Open eBook Forum, reported a 36 percent increase in eBook units sold and a 69 percent increase in eBook revenues, comparing the second quarter of 2005 with 2004. This may, however, be derived from too low a base to interest general publishers. Penguin has an extensive ebook list, but there was no information at all at the London Book Fair.

Alberto Vitale remained convinced of the vision he had when promoting the Frankfurt ebook awards, which folded in 2002. He told the Publishing News Daily, "Western publishers need to have a broad vision, not a Gutenberg vision." On a visit to China organized by Stanford University he saw a local reader for ebooks and believed the Chinese policy is to invest in ebooks rather than buildings for libraries. The former chair of Random House believes this is the future. "That's why we must find a way of working with Google, instead of saying 'No' the whole time."

Stand invitation
©2006 will789


This view had some support from Brian Murray of Harper Collins, during the Google meeting on Book Search. He suggested that 2005 was a "tipping point" for book digitizing. Amazon started "Look Inside the Book" in 2002, and Google actually launched their book project in 2004. The 2005 Microsoft interest in digitizing books, however, showed that the area now has momentum. Murray supported links through Google but saw it as the role of the publisher "to control and manage digital content for promotion and for monetization." There will be a Harper Collins Digital Warehouse to include the content of all future titles and most of the backlist. The interest in ebooks continues, apparently, but, again, there was no information about current titles on the Harper Collins stand.

Harper Collins has 6,000 titles on Google Book Search, added over the last 16 months -- but for the U.S. only. Three quarters of titles have been viewed at least once each month, so there is a depth of interest. There have been six million page views in total. For one C.S. Lewis title there were 15,641 page views on Google, compared to 351 hits on the official catalogue.

There was no objection to Google during the meetings or apparent on the stand. One argument from Nigel Newton is that copyright libraries, such as Oxford's Bodleian, may have "misinterpreted the missions with which their universities have entrusted them in handing over part of their collections for scanning." It was explained on the stand for their bookselling that the library allows public access, and the scanning project is seen as an extension of this. In practice, public access is quite complicated and requires a formal application procedure, so the Google project may relieve some pressure on library space.

Google is currently promoting hard-copy versions of books through Book Search. There is no standard link to an ebook, although this could be shown on the linked site for the publisher. It will be interesting to see how this develops in future years.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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