Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Deal Googled: Out-of-Print Books Come Out from the Snippet-Hole

There now, that wasn't so hard, was it...?

Well, of course it took a long time, but at the end of the day most of the several years between Google's introduction of its book scanning program for out-of-copyright and out-of-print books and the recently announced settlement with the book industry for USD 125 million has been a matter of the book publishing industry deciding to name a reasonable price that would sync up with the realities of book publishing in an electronic marketplace. Since the book industry was barely interested in e-books and print-on-demand a few years ago, it's understandable that the magic number was not readily at hand back then. But now that eBooks are beginning to take off via Kindle and mobile phones via Amazon and other outlets and print-on-demand publishing is beginning to look more attractive as a business model the book industry has some real revenue and traffic data and a marketing plan that will benefit from Google and other partners pushing their out-of-print wares.

In many ways this enables the book industry to monetize fringe content far more effectively via Google partners such as Amazon, in essence validating the value of Chris Anderson's "long tail" theory for content that was sometimes discounted by book industry executives resistant to Google's scanning efforts. The settlement is really just a bulk licensing fee to make it easier to administer long-tail revenues, not too different than the industry royalties paid by radio stations. This sets up people to buy books in print and in e-reading devices like Amazon's Kindle based on Google Books "broadcasts" just as premium downloads and CDs are fed by online and broadcast radio revenues. With finding an audience for one's content the greatest challenges for all publishers Google Books has become a powerful browsing engine that maximizes the value of any title, new or old, for an audience that is just right for it.

With the new agreement Google becomes a premium destination as well: you will be able to browse full pages of scanned books covered by the agreement instead of snippets and opt to pay for the full online rights to the book via Google Books - or purchase them for your private online "bookshelf." On the surface this may look like a bad thing for Amazon and it's proprietary Kindle strategy, and certainly Amazon would love for their gizmo to get as much momentum as possible. But as successful as Kindle has been with many core book enthusiasts it hasn't escaped Amazon's attention in all likelihood that the mobile market is exploding and that they are going to lose market share for books in general if they cannot get their inventory onto as many mobile devices as possible.

Enter Google's new Android operating system, which will be able to power any number of mobile and handheld devices - including perhaps, Kindles. As Amazon's portal specialty is shopping support and fulfillment, in the long run Amazon is better off partnering with Google and other platform providers to make their inventory relevant in as many venues as possible. Amazon may also turn up a winner with the Google out-of-print deal for print-on-demand support. Already a growing number of titles at Amazon are produced on a print-on-demand basis anyway, so Google and help to power that capability as well.

So all in all this deal is likely to turn into a content industry love-fest over the next few years, a peace treaty that finally enables book publishers to leverage the vast power of Google's book scanning initiative, thus avoiding expensive or less powerful alternatives and enabling book marketers to accelerate their increasingly aggressive exploitation of online channels for their marketing efforts. I can't say that I didn't say several years ago that this would happen eventually, but for now let's all just be glad that there are better times ahead for book publishers who are learning how to exploit electronic content markets far more effectively.
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