The GBS “Shopping Mall” Vision, Realized

Today, Google launched its new Google eBooks venture, described by the Wall Street Journal as “an extension of Google Books, a book-search site linked to company’s main search engine” that is a strategy to “open up a new stream of revenue outside of online advertising.”

This news – and the Google-speak attached to it – underscores the fact that while Google and its partners in the proposed Google Book Settlement have always tried to wrap the initiative up in altruistic themes like “A Library to Last Forever,” GBS watchers have always known that the settlement was about more revenue and profits for Google.

Reading Ryan Singel’s coverage, we were reminded of the wisdom of Pam Samuelson’s “Google Books is Not a Library” piece in the Huffington Post in response to the Sergey Brin column.  Samuelson clarifies that, “Unlike the Alexandria library or modern public libraries, the Google Book Search initiative is a commercial venture that aims to monetize millions of out-of-print books….”  Samuelson, a law professor at UC- Berkeley , sums up her view this way:  “Anyone aspiring to create a modern equivalent of the Alexandrian library would not have designed it to transform research libraries into shopping malls, but that is just what Google will be doing if the GBS deal is approved as is.”

This “shopping mall” observation is no hyperbole.  You just have to look at all the various ways in which Google can and will monetize on the corpus of books that it is scanning as part of the Google Book Settlement.  From book sales, to advertising alongside Book Search results, to the uncharted (and un-enumerated) territory of “non-display” uses, driving revenue is the priority.

Another kernel buried in the Google-speak is that fact that Google continues to scan books without clear copyright protection at an astounding pace.  We’ve highlighted before that their scanners can handle over 1,000 pages per hour, and Google now reports that they have scanned 15 million books since 2004 – that’s up from 12 million books in February of this year.  This massive scanning campaign is one the greatest advantages that Google enjoys as the world awaits a final court decision on the proposed settlement.  As the Department of Justice has also pointed out, the fact that potential book scanning competitors have decided to follow the letter of copyright law should not give Google a competitive advantage.  But 3 million (or 15 million) books later, here we are.  As Singel reports, a whopping 2.8 million out of the 3 million books available through the Google ebookstore are actually the product of this scanning.

One final word of advice to Google, maybe you should move Google Books and the Google ebookstore where it belongs on your homepage – under the Shopping tab.

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The mass digitization of books promises to bring tremendous value to consumers, libraries, scholars, and students. The Open Book Alliance will work to advance and protect this promise. And, by...

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January 28, 2010
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February 4, 2010
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