Chips and Change

Disclaimer: This is an opinion column. Views expressed here are not necessarily those of the University Press of North Georgia. No books were harmed in the creation of this post, either. The pages are wrinkled and crumbling, the ink is running, and the cover is like wet tissue paper, but I have it on good authority that the books are as good as new.

The same publishing industry which made the Reformation and Enlightenment possible by technological advancement has a nasty way of getting on the wrong side of the silicon wafer. If there were an industry I would have expected to transition quickly and effortlessly into the information age, it would be the book one. Books are information in the purest sense, and, compared to movies and music, their digital forms are eminently mutable and portable.

It should have been quick and easy. Instead we get constant reminders that hard copies of books don’t evaporate when dropped in a bucket of water, the implication being that digital purchases do, never mind that Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Apple, and just about every reputable ebook vendor backs that stuff up on their corporate servers. Also, they sure aren’t talking about any book I’ve ever handled. Drop either one of my ten dollar paperbacks or my one hundred and thirty dollar Consumer Behavior textbook in a puddle, and even if the pages don’t evaporate, the binding surely will. And this is just one example of business induced insanity.

I refer, of course, to the Google Books lawsuit.

Yes, indeed. Apparently limiting matters to certain samples and paying claiming authors a twenty dollar fee is not good enough for the Author’s Guild, who now want Google Books gone. Or maybe they’re after that three billion dollar settlement as much as justice.

While I’ll be the first to admit the original Google Books model was flawed because you could read copyrighted books for free, but I really don’t see the grounds for complaining about it after they limited access. To read whole books “for free” now you would have to search for dozens specific strings and wait over seven hundred hours. Search result hits are essentially free advertisement and promotion, which even have links to buy the books embedded on the side of the reader. So long as they don’t actually deliver all the content of the book too easily, what difference does it make if the book is indexed for internet searches or not?

But no. What ho, Iago? What new devilry hath thou wrought upon thou (O)fellow publishers. Lo, I see it even now. The antichrist of the word approaches. It is none other than the transistor.

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