Wednesday, July 22, 2009

More money, more problems

Despite getting ditched by my co-SOTB scribe Christopher, I attended a fascinating discussion last night at the Boston Public Library titled, Expanding Access to Books: Implications of the Google Books Settlement Agreement. As it turns out, the event ended up being both an opportunity for Daniel Clancy, Engineering Director of Google Books, to defend the settlement, and a chance for various very smart people - most notably, MIT Director of Libraries Ann Wolpert and Harvard Vice Dean John Palfrey - to frame the issues slightly differently from Google and press Clancy on serious concerns.

It was a good show. Wolpert was fair, persistent, and sharp, repeatedly noting how libraries had presented Google with the books to digitize, but now run the risk of getting limited access to scans due to budget constraints and pricing by a company (google) that essentially now has a monopoly on the market. Palfrey bravely noted that we - the public - should have had the chutzpah Google had five years ago, we should have funded this scanning so that we now owned the scans and could use them for the public interest. We didn't do it, a private company did, and now no one else will replicate this project or anything like it for years. All we can do now is try to insert a public interest voice into this process. It's not clear whether that will be possible.

The overall concern is orphan books, those titles that are out of print but not out of copyright. Google will allow users to download these books at a cost and the money will go to the Book Rights Registry, who will try to track down the copyright holders. If they are not found... this is another of Wolpert's concerns. Where is that money going?

There was also a mention of privacy and censorship, though time was limited and that didn't get the attention it deserved. The panel did however note that Google has been "courageous" on the issue of censorship in the past, so there was some hope there.

As I still work to make sense of the library concerns with Google, I find online this article by Rita Chang in Advertising Age on the future of ads in e-books (courtesy of Dennis Johnson at MobyLives). Put your coffee down before reading. It's ugly. The article centers on the mysterious patent pending for Amazon that suggests the company is getting ready to, as Chang says, "stuff digital books with contextual advertising." I know.

What frustrates me is what Chang points out as the driving force behind this movement to get ads into books: the need to lower the cost of books. This goes back to my concern over the need for cheap product - at what price! Get this:
"There's a movement in the industry to offset book prices through various ways," said consultant Chris Andrews, who's writing an e-book about the advent of e-books. "There's more revenue per book with those ads and they allow publishers to sell the book less expensively. It also gives advertisers this cool market of people who spend hours with content. The relationship is longer than any other media -- and it's deeper."

and this!
"They're just exploring all the multiple ways you can monetize content, so you can offer a customer a full-priced book at $9.99 or you can offer them a half-priced book that's partially underwritten by advertisers," said Mark Coker, founder of e-book seller Smashwords.
If this revenue source makes publishing a thriving industry, where will the jobs be, or what will the priorities be? Jobs will be in ad sales, and editors will have to find synergistic products. Get that book to appeal to a specific demographic and then sell space to advertisers by laying claim to said demographic. A marriage made in heaven!

All I can do at this point is hold out hope that good, honest, respectable presses - such as Melville House, host of Mobylives - will remain for those of us that don't want to have books interrupted with f'ing advertising. I need to read something uplifting to get out of this ad age-induced funk.

Ah! The David Rees v. Jamba Juice debacle! I'm loving it. Now Rees is a man who has perfected his online voice, with frequent OMG and LOL and comic (and yet legit) frustration. Enjoy the saga!

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