I am a writer by profession. Over the last two decades, I have been fortunate enough to have seen more than twenty of my books make it into print. Some have even sold enough copies for me to earn royalties over and above my advance. With publishing house marketing budgets ever increasingly being squeezed, and us little authors in niche markets such as IT being most squished as a result, it can be difficult to sell enough copies to earn a living. Which is why, outside of the big name bestselling authors, the rest of us do other things to support our families. I am also a successful technology journalist, my main source of income, and a reluctant IT consultant who chooses clients based more on a belief in what they are doing than how much they can pay.
You might be forgiven for thinking, therefore, that news regarding the decision by the University of California to join forces with Google and allow the contents of several million of the 34 million titles in its libraries for inclusion in the Google Book Search project would be about as welcome as gas in a spacesuit hereabouts. With 100 libraries across 10 campuses spread around California, UC is apparently the largest research and academic library on the face of the planet. Assuming you do not include the Web, of course. By joining other great names in getting into bed with Google, names that include the likes of Harvard, Stanford and Oxford, UC have reignited the whole Google Book Search is bad for the publishing industry debate.
The argument goes something like this: by digitizing copyrighted content from a book, even a book that is available for borrowing from a library, and making said content freely available to anyone who searches for it using Google, it is no different to the P2P sharing of illegally copied MP3 tracks. Publishers lose sales, authors lose royalties. The truth is a little less dramatic, and as usual, it is those with a vested interest and rabid fears of losing market share that are creating the misdirection. Very few authors that I have spoken to actually give a damn about what Google are doing, especially when they have done the very basic levels of research required to unearth the truth. A truth that includes small details such as the fact that it is only the full text of out-of-copyright volumes that will be published, so only the publishing houses stand to lose money, not the author. A truth that includes larger details such as the fact that where a work does remain in copyright then Google is only publishing a short extract, a sentence or two wrapping contextually around the search terms, in much the same way that Amazon lets you read an extract, or a bookshop lets your browse. While the publishing giants would rather readers were doing this through them, not Google, and the bean counters sweat bullets about the lost advertising revenue opportunity, the author is once again forgotten.
Let me tell you, as an author, I am grateful for any exposure my work can get. I do not give a hoot where or how people are exposed to the book, as long as they are. Publishers, as I mentioned earlier, have long since given up spending any real money or making any real effort to get that exposure for us small fry writers. Our best hope now lies with the online world, with the likes of Google Book Search.
I admit that there is always the danger that Google might change its mind further down the road and trample upon copyright issues, right royally screwing over authors in the process. But hey, we are used to it, and to be honest it is no different to what the publishing giants have already done to us…