Authors & Publishers Fail to See Benefits of Google Books
The decade-long scuffle between the Author’s Guild and Google may return to trial in 2016, this time in the Supreme Court. On December 31st, The Author’s Guild put forth a petition for the case to appear in front of the Supreme Court, arguing that a judge’s previous ruling, which dismissed the Author’s Guild lawsuit on the grounds that Google’s use of copyrighted, digitized books was “transformative” and therefore fell under fair use, was incorrect. “This case represents an unprecedented judicial expansion of the fair-use doctrine that threatens copyright protection in the digital age," the Authors Guild says in its petition.
The Author’s Guild argues that although Google offers the Google Books service for free for the benefit of consumers, the search giant is profiting from the platform and the data it collects from that platform in other ways. Therefore, authors whose works are still under copyright should be compensated.
Copyright laws aside, I disagree that Google and consumers are the only players that profit from a platform like Google Books. Authors, though unpaid, are gaining a free, unmatched platform for book discovery and sales. That’s huge, considering many authors and publishers are spending significant resources to create direct-to-consumer platforms like newsletters and blogs in order to sell more books.
Joe Wikert wrote about the discovery benefits of Google Books in a blog post last year. He pointed out that Google Books only shares snippets of titles, which are enough for readers to search books to find the topics they are interested in, but not enough to dissuade a purchase. In fact, Google includes buy buttons next to these book excerpts, offering both print and ebook formats that can be purchased directly from the publisher, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Books-A-Million, and Amazon.
In his post Wikert implores publishers to “wake up and realize that the largest search engine on the planet offers a powerful way for your content to be discovered and purchased. Rather than getting all litigious about this, why not embrace it and find a way to fully leverage it?”
Think about it. What if, while searching for news about her favorite YouTube star, a reader could find excerpts of that star’s latest book? Not only would she realize, “Oh wow, Grace Helbig came out with a book,” but she could then check out several pages from the book and decide if it’s actually as entertaining as Helbig’s videos. Then, when she decides to purchase, a buy button is waiting there right next to the book sample.
Book sampling can only benefit authors and publishers. BISG reported in its Consumer Attitudes Toward Ebook Reading that a high percentage of regular ebook buyers said ebook samples influenced their purchases. Today many technology companies sell ebook sampling solutions to publishers, yet Google Books has already created a seamless book discovery-to-sample-to-purchase experience free of charge. Why would anyone in publishing want to suppress that?
I hope that authors, publishers, and Google come to an amicable resolution to this dispute because all parties stand to gain from a service that makes over 20 million books searchable and purchasable at no cost except to Google itself.
What do you think? Is Google Books an untapped resource for publishers and authors? Or is the search platform doing more harm than good?
Ellen Harvey is a freelance writer and editor who covers the latest technologies and strategies reshaping the publishing landscape. She previously served as the Senior Editor at Publishing Executive and Book Business.