Below Evan Schnittman, OUP’s Vice President of Business Development and Rights for the Academic and USA Divisions, responds to William MacNamara’s Financial Times article on digitizing books. A similar article also appeared in The Telegraph. (Full Disclosure: Evan is a member of Google’s Publisher Advisory Board. As the name implies, it is simply an advisory group, and Google can take or leave its suggestions. Additionally, OUP is participating not only in Google Book Search, but also Microsoft’s Live Book Search (LBS) and Amazon’s Search Inside The Book (SITB) because we strongly believe that discoverability and access leads to customer acquisition and book purchasing.)
The opening line of William MacNamara’s story “Publishers seek to play Google at its own game” ominously portends “Publishers are racing to digitize their books as they seek to counter the threat posed by the internet giant Google.”
The reality is that we are not running scared from Google – frankly it’s quite the opposite. Through initiatives like Google Book Search, Amazon’s Search Inside the Book, Microsoft’s Windows Live Book Search, the Sony Reader device, the digitization of the library market over the last 5 years, the looming new digital initiatives at the biggest vendors, the power of the blogosphere, and so many more things that I could never finish this already too long sentence – we have finally been presented with enough options that make financial sense and so we are pursuing our digital future.
What we publishers have come to realize is that Google and friends have opened up the world to our content by showing us that discoverability and access leads to interest and opportunity. Every major media company is now thinking they need to figure out their share of the digital space.
While publishers like those cited in the article are investing millions in asset repositories and deep backlist digitization, it hardly means that they are doing to spite or protect themselves from Google. In fact, I would venture to say that Google would prefer a world where all publishers worked with them through a common API and didn’t have to digitize entire collections on its own dime. This goes for Microsoft and Amazon and everyone else for that matter.
It is important to note that not all publishers are created equal. The reality is that only a few major players can afford to invest in these large scale digital projects so the industry as a whole will still rely on the Google’s of the world to digitize and index our content. Believe it or not, Google is actually helping publishers!
This is an incredibly important moment in the history of publishing as we are being given the opportunity to transform the discoverability of our content. Most of us will do so using the very same tools we have relied upon for ages – we will license our content and use the power of copyright law to protect ourselves.
The book industry is suing Google over the non-licensed use of content and the courts will help us figure out where to go from here. But the fact remains that most of the companies named in the lawsuit are also working with Google in GBS. Is that what Mr. MacNamara means by playing Google at its own game?