Strategies for a discontinuous future.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

G**gle Print is Not a Library

OK. I don't wanna jump off the GYM meme, but I keep seeing this anti-argument: "but...G**gle Print is just a library".

Guys, there is a simple reason Google Print is nothing at all like a library - it's an enterprise, a company, a firm. Its only purpose is to make $$$ (sad, I know).

That means that it has every incentive to behave very differently than a library - to think strategically about how to maximize it's returns.

-- umair // 7:17 AM //


I don't that people are really saying that Google Print is like a library. They are just using a convenient metaphor of a library card catalog to describe it, even though it is more of a card catalog on steroids.

If you find what you are looking for, does it really matter if there are ads around it? Perhaps libraries should have been putting ads on the card catalog for years now to raise money.
// Larry Borsato // 3:22 PM

There are for-profit libraries, and also pseudo-for-profits -- like private professional school libraries.

Even a non-profit library is presumably (or at least should be) seeking to maximize some set of outcomes. A library's goals are essential to society -- but so are for-profit corporations. Unless specifically mentioned in law, do some specific actions that were legal when you were maximizing one legal outcome become illegal when you are instead maximizing another legal outcome?

Finally, Google Print is in partnership with public and university libraries. Every book scanned is owned by a library, and I believe the scanning is even happening on library premises. When a non-profit library partners/outsources to a for-profit service company like Google, and their are mutual benefits, why should the analysis of the for-profit effects dominate?
// Gojomo // 5:11 PM

Wow, I cannot believe this.

Googleblindness is what I am going to start calling this.

Guys, I hate to say it, but you are firmly in the Google distortion field.


Even for profit libraries are tied to a specific number of users. They are never open to the public, and so their incentives aren't to make huge $$ for the firm, but to act as knowledge resources.

But Google Print is open to the public. That is why Google is going to benefit disproportionately from network FX and ad sales, and why these can give it a huge amount of market power.

Shouldn't authors at least get a cut? Isn't it intuitive how this might give Google quasi-monopoly power in this market.


If libraries put ads on the card catalog, should authors get a cut?.

If libraries put ads on card catalogs, who gains power in the market - libraries or authors? Should authors be worried about this?

Both of you,

Let me ask you this. If it was Bill Gates doing this, what would you think about it?
// umair // 8:18 PM

Google Print doesn't deliver any full copies to 'the public' (at least not without opt-in permission). It just lets the public know where they can find a whole book related to their query, with a tiny snippet.

The law gives authors and copyright holders rights to benefit from *copying* -- not a share of every benefit that flows from their work. If you read a book, it gives you a great business idea, and you make a million dollars, you don't owe the author a cent of cash money.

Books exist. People want to find books. Google can exploit this situation however they like as long as they're not making illegal copies, directly or indirectly (via the theories of contributory/vicarious/inducing infringement).

If Congress wants to change the law so that all downstream values need to give the copyright holder a cut, they can do that, and you may make a case that'd be a socially useful policy. (I'd disagree, but it'd be an 'oughtta be' discussion.)

I'm making a 'way it is' point. What they're doing is legal and commendable. Legal precedent would have to change for them to have any obligation to give the copyrightholders a slice of their search revenues.

I agree a lot of what Google is doing will give them serious market power. (See my latest blog entry on Google Analytics, for example.) But acquiring market power strategically is legal; misusing that power once you have it is illegal.

In this particular case, though, the publishers' position is more likely to lead to a destructive monopoly. They could act as a cartel, and only give indexing permission to a single provider, who agrees to cut them in on the monopoly profits so generated.

The Google position is pro-competition. They're making the case that the relevant precedents allow *anyone* to perform the same limited scanning/indexing as they are.

The copyright holders shouldn't be allowed to extend their monopoly over 'copies' to apply to 'indexing' as well.
// Gojomo // 9:54 PM

Sorry, forgot to answer your question re: Microsoft.

If Microsoft were doing this, I'd be a bit more suspicious. They've been a real monopolist longer -- Google is just working their way there. MSFT hasn't been a wellspring of free, open services or support for open content/open software, either. And there's a long list of partners and competitors they've destroyed with their market power.

GOOG may get to that point, but there's not yet a trail of bodies behind them. Yet. So MSFT has earned more suspicion.

In either case, though, I'd say that GOOG or MSFT has every right to scan books for indexing purposes. Furher, that the resulting free search service would be a boon for society. Copyrightholders have no right to veto that.
// Gojomo // 10:47 PM

Your choice of words suggests that libraries can not be a business. There's nothing to suggest that a private library would fail. They charge X dollars every month so you can go in and check books out. Shoot, you could say Blockbuster is a library.

Just because something is not called a library does not mean that it isn't a library conceptually.
// Nolan Eakins // 4:39 AM

Hi Guys,

Thanks for the comments.


You can't make the Blockbuster comparison. Studios deal with Blockbuster on very different terms than Google is dealing with authors.


I'm not really concerned about copyright issues - I've long argued that copyright is itself an error in a digital world. So let's drop all copyright arguments - they've got nothing at all to do with what I'm saying.

I agree with your general "way it is" points.

I am simply pointing out that Google gains huge market power over authors by this move - which is something that you get, but lots of other people want to (for whatever reason) actively deny.

At the limit, this means that they can pretty much dictate terms to content creators. That's not a nicer world than now; it's a much worse one.

Now, that's why I'm urging content guys to get Google to more closely tie their revenue share to the network value of their content - ad revenues is one simple way to do it.
// umair // 5:10 AM

Oh yah - Nolan, the point isn't that libaries can't be a business.

Of course they can.

When they are, content creators deal with them on different terms than they do with libraries, because their incentives are different.
// umair // 5:11 AM
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