You may have heard. Google has just launched a service called Google Print. Like Amazon, Google’s service allows people to search through books. Google announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair that are adding a lot of major publishers and they will be adding many titles. As with Amazon, there is a limit to how many pages you can view. And, at this stage anyway, it’s not possible to search the book database exclusively. I’ve found that the best way to get a Google Print result to show up is to type the word “book” and then whatever it is you’re searching for. It’ll be interesting to see if this develops further.
Over at the Vroman's Bookstore blog, Millions contributor emeritus Patrick Brownweighs in on Oprah's endorsement of the Kindle, saying, "I never thought Oprah was anything more than she is -- a corporate shill." Vroman's president Allison Hill (a beloved and admired figure in the bookselling industry) also shares her thoughts:Oprah, if you're reading this, forget about cashmere pashimas, spa-like shampoo, and new technology this holiday season, remind your fans what's really important:A sense of community. Time honored traditions. Human contact. A neighborhood gathering place. Keeping money in the community. Passionate, personal book recommendations. Putting the right book in the right person's hands to help change their life. The smell and feel of books. A destination where ideas and information and people's stories are valued and honored.Your endorsement of a "gadget" has a ripple effect far greater than you may realize. Book lovers buying Kindles and digital content exclusively through Amazon means the further erosion of our sales, and a precarious future for many independent bookstores.Independent bookstores are protectors of freedom of speech, financial support for local charities, generators of tax dollars for communities, resources for entertainment and education, and insurance against the chainification of Main Street America. These contributions should not be taken for granted, and certainly not put in jeopardy.When you endorse this new "gadget", what are you really endorsing? and is it worth it?What do you think of the Kindle? Is it the future of reading, or will it go the way of the oxygen bar?
In today's Guardian Nigel Newton, chief executive of Bloomsbury Publishing, rants about the danger presented by Google's ongoing endeavor to digitize the world's books. I'm sorry, but I just cannot understand the vehemence of the opposition to Google's plan. Newton tries to catch our attention by invoking the spirit of Charles Dickens, which he claims is being denigrated by the small ads that Google places near the text of the books it scans, but really, for Newton and other publishers who oppose Google, this is about protecting their bottom line and it has nothing to do with the best interests of authors, Dickens or otherwise.He begins by decrying Google's "inappropriate" advertising. It's very true that advertising can and does get out of hand in our modern world, but Newton is taking a particularly Draconian line to prove his point. Advertisements run in all of the world's most prestigious magazines and newspapers, and we don't call this "predation." In fact it's particularly amusing to me that Newton selects Dickens to focus on because many of Dickens' novels first appeared in installments in magazines like Harper's, which contained - surprise - advertisements for things like pianos and carpets and shirts. Scroll through the images of old issues of Harper's on this page and you'll catch glimpses of them on the margins, not all that different from the way Google does it.But it's not long before Newton gets to the real issue, money:At one level all this is quite funny. At another, it is shocking. The worst thing is that the actual money paid to authors and publishers for these silly ads is negligible. So is the number of book purchases arising directly from these links (certainly they were when Google's representative came to see me last autumn). Authors are being ripped off however you look at it. They need to say something about it, loudly.This betrays how little Newton knows about what Google is doing. Google takes a cut of the revenues generated by those "silly ads" and the rest goes to the copyright holder. If the copyright holder's take for a particular book is "negligible," so is Google's. Beyond the money, this is also about Old Media's desire for control versus New Media's push for openness. Newton can't see the potential monetary benefit of making his books more accessible to the public. If it were up to him, we'd have to drop a coin in before flipping through a book at a bookstore. Newton's real motives become clear when he reveals that he's not really against digitizing books and making money off of them, he's just against someone else doing it:Publishers also have the responsibility to make sure that when it comes to hosting electronic content in future, it is their own websites that host the downloads and the scans of text and audio. There is no reason to hand this content to third-party websites.What I would say to Newton is go for it, no one is stopping you, and while you are fretting over your books being stolen, Google is digitizing the world's knowledge so that future generations will have easy access to it - well, unless it was published by Bloomsbury, apparently. The point of Newton's diatribe, which is "an edited version of a speech given on Thursday to the Guardian Review's World Book Day forum," is that we should boycott Google to get them back for their trespasses. Good luck with that.Before I close this, I want to clarify one thing. Newton implies that what Google is doing is bad for authors and not just publishers. I don't think that's true at all. Google's effort - in the absence of a viable effort by publishers - can introduce readers to books and allow authors explore new ways of getting their books to readers and new ways of making money from their writing. The Internet has shaken the foundations of the music, film and news businesses and changed them all - for the better, I think - and there's no reason why the publishing industry should be exempt from this.See also: The publishers' big blunder, Richard Nash of Soft Skull on Google Print, HarperCollins starts its own little islandUpdate: Just spotted Hissy Cat's post which goes even further in picking apart Nigel Newton's ridiculous speech. It's worth reading.
On Friday, as you may or may not have noticed, Amazon went down for about two hours. These days, we're used to 100% uptime from the internet's supersites - Google, Yahoo, Wikipedia, et al - but the Amazon outage reminded me of the late 1990s when even the biggest dot-coms, struggling to scale to the explosive growth of the Web, suffered routine and sometimes prolonged outages. (Of course, some more recent start-ups still experience such growing pains).As Amazon returned to service on Friday afternoon, speculation kicked into high gear about just how much revenue the world's largest Internet retailer had lost during the two-hour outage. A little back-of-the-envelope math gives a rough idea. When the company reported its first quarter numbers, it estimated that it would have net sales of between $3.875 billion and $4.075 billion in the second quarter of this year. The midpoint of that is $3.975 billion: $43,681,319 per day or $1,820,054 per hour. So, theoretically, the outage lost the company $3,640,109, with the caveat that this is just averaging the numbers out and not taking to account how busy mid-day Friday is, as opposed to other times of the week. Regardless, a decent chunk of change.Of course, as Silicon Alley Insider pointed out, "When customers who wanted to buy something from Amazon went to the site and found it down, the majority of them likely figured the glitch was temporary and decided to check back later this afternoon. And lo and behold--it was temporary. So they're probably placing their orders right now." So, in reality, the likely damage is probably minimal. It would take repeated outages for Amazon to start feeling the impact from downtime.
Science fiction author and Boing Boing blogger Cory Doctorow explains why science fiction writers should be excited that theirs is the "only literature people care enough about to steal on the Internet." Doctorow has made his books freely available on the Internet - while also selling copies through traditional channels - and has been impressed by the results:I've discovered what many authors have also discovered: releasing electronic texts of books drives sales of the print editions. An SF writer's biggest problem is obscurity, not piracy. Of all the people who chose not to spend their discretionary time and cash on our works today, the great bulk of them did so because they didn't know they existed, not because someone handed them a free e-book version.The full column is available at Locus Online. For my thoughts on these topics a good place to start is here.
Amazon isn't content just to get your online shopping dollars. Now it wants to travel with you, untethered. Amazon's recently unveiled TextBuyIt lets you buy stuff from the online store with a few keystrokes on any old mobile phone.The implications here are interesting. Shopping by text message seems clunky, especially in the age of the iPhone, but my guess is that Amazon is trying to build the mobile shopping habit for when everybody has iPhone-caliber browsing abilities at their fingertips. This era likely isn't far off. This means that folks will be able to walk around their local Barnes & Noble or Best Buy, handle the goods, and then punch up a purchase with Amazon at a better price.Certainly mobile shopping may represent yet another threat to brick and mortar book retailers, but I suspect the companies that should be really nervous are electronics chains, where the potential savings to be had are much greater. Good bookstores will always be able to offer a pleasant atmosphere and knowledgeable staff that Amazon is unable to match.