October 29, 2008

The Google Books Search deal: A real game-changer

Take a gander over at the Official Google Blog for an announcement of the settlement of the court case between Google and various publishers over the Google Books Search service.

While we've made tremendous progress with Book Search, today we've announced an agreement with a broad class of authors and publishers and with our library partners that advances Larry's and Sergey's original dream in ways Google never could have done alone.

This agreement is truly groundbreaking in three ways. First, it will give readers digital access to millions of in-copyright books; second, it will create a new market for authors and publishers to sell their works; and third, it will further the efforts of our library partners to preserve and maintain their collections while making books more accessible to students, readers and academic researchers.

I encourage you to read the post as well as the text of an page on the Future of Google Books Search where the true game-changing nature of the deal becomes glaringly apparent. I'll quote the part on Accessing Books:
Accessing books

This agreement will create new options for reading entire books (which is, after all, what books are there for).

  • Online access

    Once this agreement has been approved, you'll be able to purchase full online access to millions of books. This means you can read an entire book from any Internet-connected computer, simply by logging in to your Book Search account, and it will remain on your electronic bookshelf, so you can come back and access it whenever you want in the future.

  • Library and university access

    We'll also be offering libraries, universities and other organizations the ability to purchase institutional subscriptions, which will give users access to the complete text of millions of titles while compensating authors and publishers for the service. Students and researchers will have access to an electronic library that combines the collections from many of the top universities across the country. Public and university libraries in the U.S. will also be able to offer terminals where readers can access the full text of millions of out-of-print books for free.

  • Buying or borrowing actual books

    Finally, if the book you want is available in a bookstore or nearby library, we'll continue to point you to those resources, as we've always done.

Wow. People will be able to buy online versions of books on GBS. Libraries will be able to license all the content on GBS. Millions of books in all disciplines and from all time periods.

I can't wait to see details on this, especially if there will be some sort of DRM, how printing will work, whether or not you'll be able to download to readers such as the Kindle. Of course, it will be really interesting to see what a site license for a large university will cost. Will it be the equivalent of our entire monograph budget? The implications and the choices that would imply are staggering. Talk about a rock and a hard place. This has the potential to completely transform the ebook business and the way libraries buy books. The traditional players in the ebook business will have to really focus on seriously adding value to their offerings, the way A&I services have to add more value in the face of Google Scholar. Libraries will be faced with a lot of choices, especially in the face of fears of putting all our eggs in one basket.

Of course, I also have to blow my own horn here a bit. Way back, almost exactly three years ago, when GBS was still called Google Print, this is what I wrote in one of the entries in the My Job in 10 Years series, with emphasis added:
It's already happening: the New York Times, Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, all the JSTOR journals, Google Print. In 10 years, these will be the hot commodities in our libraries, all the stuff that the students are so frustrated that they can't find online. Why not all the Canadian newspapers back to the first issue? Why not all the books in Google Print full text searchable (and readable, for a fee). Who doesn't want to license the full text version of Google Print when it's finished -- and it should have made some pretty good progress in 10 years.

Of course, GBS isn't finished, and in a sense will never be finished. We live in interesting times.

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