Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Opening access to books means opportunities for everyone -- including Amazon



At a Wired conference yesterday, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, made some fairly critical comments about Google Books that have, predictably, created press attention. We can't presume to understand the full nature of Amazon's statements, but we believe they go to the heart of our continuing efforts to make books more available and were likely motivated by recent news about Google Books.

Last month at the BEA conference in New York, we discussed our plans to expand Google Books for our publishing partners. By the end of this year, we hope to give publishers, as well as authors, the ability to sell online access to their works so that people can find, purchase and read books on the devices they choose, including computers, mobile phones, laptops, netbooks, or e-readers from multiple vendors. This service will also be designed to allow multiple retail partners to distribute these books, similar to the way book sales work in the physical market.

We believe more choice is good. That's exactly why our vision for Google Books is to create an open platform that, among other things, allows any bookstore, library, publisher partner or individual website developer to provide their users with the ability to search across and preview books in a similar way to Amazon's Search Inside! feature.

Providing more choice is also why we entered into our settlement agreement last year with authors and publishers. The settlement will provide users with more access to books. We still strongly believe that copying for the sake of indexing is a fair use that is encouraged by existing copyright law precedents. Fair use is critical to the way web search and book search work and is already well established.

The settlement allows us to bring real benefits to users. It opens access to millions of books that are no longer published; it expands access for people with disabilities; and it compensates rightsholders for new uses. And, through the creation of the Registry, and a database of copyright claims information, the settlement makes it easier for others to find rightsholders and license their works. Other companies, including Amazon, and individuals can contact rightsholders directly or work through the Registry (if the rightsholder has authorized the Registry to do so) to license works for new uses. And for books whose rightsholders can't be found, we also support comprehensive orphan works legislation, as we've said in the past.

In the end, we believe more access is good for everyone, Google and Amazon alike. But most importantly, it's good for readers who simply want to find and enjoy books, and for authors and publishers who want to create and sell works.

1 comment:

Josh said...

The question is: access at what cost? Google will be the only company that can offer millions of orphan works, about 70% of all books scanned, without fear of litigation. Google will receive 37% of the revenue from the use of these works, and the Registry will divide up the remaining 63% among Registered Rightsholders – by definition excluding the absent rightsholders of orphan works. What incentive is there to find the orphan rightsholder when both Google and the Registry will have to take a smaller piece of the pie?

While competitors may contact Rightsholders or the Registry, they must do so one-by-one. The transaction costs alone will prevent entry; Google eliminated these transaction costs only by the class-action nature of the settlement. The circumstances that allowed Google to make this settlement are unlikely to be repeated.

With orphan work legislation stalled, the fear is Google will maintain a complete monopoly on the use of orphan works and will charge appropriate monopoly prices. Again, access at what cost?