Cling to that old model…

There has been a battle waging for the last several years. I’m not talking about Iraq or Afghanistan, I’m talking about the battle between Google and publishers.

Google has been trying to digitize books and make them searchable. The idea is people could find material in a book, read a little bit of it, and if that is what they are looking for, they could either buy a physical copy, or find one at a library to check it out.

Publishers don’t like this. Technically this is violating the copyright because Google is. . .well, they’re copying the book.

There is a classic scene in movies–one where the protagonist falls over the side of a cliff. As the camera pans, we see the protagonist is clinging for dear life to a small branch.

Publishers are clinging to the old model with the same sense of desperation. There are opportunities in the new model. Times are scary for publishers, and nobody knows for sure which path will work, but clinging to the old model will NOT work.

Look at the lengths to which the Internet Archive is forced to go to make a digital copy available to readers. The Internet Archive has a lot of public domain material, but is trying to make more in-copyright material available. From a Wall Street Journal article:

“With its latest project, the organization is making inroads into the idea of loaning in-copyright books to the masses. Only one person at a time will be allowed to check out a digital copy of an in-copyright book for two weeks. While on loan, the physical copy of the book won’t be loaned, due to copyright restrictions.”

So imagine you’re a reader who just found a book at a library. But you’re told you can’t check it out because somebody has a digital copy checked out somewhere. The whole beauty of digital copies is you can make millions of exact copies with negligible cost. But we’re going to tie up physical books, and only allow one digital copy out at a time because of outdated copyright laws?

As an author, I’m fully aware of how hard it is to make a living in this profession. But this attempt to lock down copies and create a monoploy doesn’t help me, they help my publisher. If a person comes to a library and finds my book on the shelf, and they are told they can’t check it out, I’ve just lost the opportunity of making a fan. That person will find something else to read. And when Christmas rolls around, and he needs a gift for Aunt Betty, he won’t think of my book because he hasn’t read it.

Nothing about the new models is for certain, but what is for certain is that those who cling to the old model will be left behind. The landscape is changing, and authors and publishers who change with it will likely be better off than those who keep holding onto that branch.

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