The Future of the Book

HarperCollins starts its own little island

By posted at 10:25 am on December 13, 2005 0

As the book digitizing story continues to get more complex and fragmented, HarperCollins announced yesterday that it will host its copies of digitized books on its own servers rather than Google’s. The books will still be accessible via Google search, but they will not be displayed by Google.

HarperCollins deserves some praise for pushing to make its books widely accessible online, but I think a lot depends on how HarperCollins decides to implement this program. The danger here is that dozens of publishers follow HarperCollins’ lead and all set up their own digital fiefdoms with different standards and different rules (and different pricing schemes if publishers decide to charge.) Depending on how well integrated these publisher sites are with Google search (read: how much power publishers decide to let Google have), finding and using these digitized books could become unnecessarily time-consuming. However, if HarperCollins decides to stay closely integrated with Google Book Search, retaining control in a way that is invisible to the reader, then the likelihood of a cumbersome, unnecessarily complex system arising is diminished. I think readers benefit a lot from a system that is unified.

Reaction has been mostly positive – primarily because HarperCollins’ rhetoric has been about “openness”:

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