Google continues to experience rough air as it seeks altitude. We might think that they would have looked at Microsoft before them. Microsoft managed to squander a vast amount of brand equity and brand opportunity by acting like the bully on the block, putting the screws to third-party competitors with all the grace and generosity of a Chicago street gang.
But no. Google decided to piss off the entire academic world by appearing to disregard copyright. For a marketing point of view, this is a howler of the first order. It is harder to imagine a segment better placed to do you harm than the academic world. They have much too much time on their hands, possess snit sharpened wits, and have access to the minds of the young for four formative years. Good one, Google. (Though I must say, I am sympathetic. Academics with life time security are well compensated. The state might well say, "your publications belong to the public domain." Many scientists already act is precisely this spirit.)
Enter Amazon with a program of its own. None of the Google/Microsoft bullying here.
Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos wouldn’t comment specfically on the Google library program. But he said, "It’s really important to do this cooperatively with the copyright holders, with the publishing community, with the authors. We’re going to keep working in that cooperative vein."
Hey, presto. This is largely a matter of respect. The Internet players needs to be seen to be honoring the old technologies (print), the old institutions (universities) and the old content professors (professors), with a nod in their direction. And surely it can’t be very hard to create a micro payment system that send small amounts of value to the producers. (One would have thought that this is the kind of thing Google could have banged off in a Sunday afternoon.) This is about diplomatic gestures, and these don’t have to be expensive.
But no one, not Google, not Microsoft, not Amazon, not Apple has come to terms with the real issue. At the moment, everyone is looking for the payment model. As the head of the Authors Guild puts it, "The book industry has to find its equivalent of iTunes."
Oh, please. What the industry has to find is its equivalent of iPod. Until we have some sleek, perfect, deeply useful, "have to have it," "have to hold it" piece of technology for reading digital format, this issue will remain a minor one. Here’s what we need, a piece of hardware that makes hard copy, ink of paper books look antique and preposterous. What we need is a piece of technology that is so perfect to the hand and the eye, so good at capturing our "marginalia," so good at helping us extract, organize, store and repurpose the text in question, that we cannot go home again. What we need is technology that makes a pulp of fiction.
Yes, we still love the feel, the ease, the tangibility of books, but somewhere out there is a piece of technology that does for reading what the computer did for word processing. And once it is in place (designed by Apple, softwared by Microsoft, supplied by Amazon, with content discovered by Google?), we will go back to "books" with the same astonishment with which we go back to an IBM selectric II typewriter. These were the ones that made it sound like World War I is taking place in the living room (when it was merely your girl friend writing her thesis).
Will someone please create a reading machine.
Mangalindan, Mylene and Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg. 2005. Google This: Amazon Plans to See Portions of Books Online. Wall Street Journal. November 4, 2005, p. B1.