Clancy cites high usage of out-of-copyright books
This article is generally unremarkable, although it does have some good quotes from prominent players. Otherwise, just another article in NY Times on Google Books. But it has two notable features — The first is the quote from Google’s Dan Clancy, in the second paragraph, stating a remarkably high volume of usage of out-of-copyright books. The second notable feature, which is why I’m excerpting the article at some length, is that it was given surprisingly little attention in the blogosphere/twittersphere when it was published a month ago.
Google hopes to open a trove of little-seen books [IHT version]
by Motoko Rich, New York Times, Jan 5, 2009
Ever since Google began scanning printed books four years ago, scholars and others … have been able to tap a trove of information that had been locked away on the dusty shelves of libraries and in antiquarian bookstores.
[boldface added] According to Dan Clancy, the engineering director for Google book search, every month users view at least 10 pages of more than half of the one million out-of-copyright books that Google has scanned into its servers.
The agreement, pending approval by a judge this year, also paved the way for both sides to make profits from digital versions of books. Just what kind of commercial opportunity the settlement represents is unknown, but few expect it to generate significant profits for any individual author. Even Google does not necessarily expect the book program to contribute significantly to its bottom line. … “We did not think necessarily we could make money,” said Sergey Brin, a Google founder and its president of technology, in a brief interview at the company’s headquarters. “We just feel this is part of our core mission. There is fantastic information in books. Often when I do a search, what is in a book is miles ahead of what I find on a Web site.”
Users are already taking advantage of out-of-print books that have been scanned and are available for free download. Mr. Clancy was monitoring search queries recently when one for “concrete fountain molds” caught his attention. The search turned up a digital version of an obscure 1910 book, and the user had spent four hours perusing 350 pages of it.
“More students in small towns around America are going to have a lot more stuff at their fingertips,” said Michael A. Keller, the university librarian at Stanford. “That is really important.”
Some librarians privately expressed fears that Google might charge high prices for subscriptions to the book database as it grows. … David Drummond, Google’s chief legal officer, said the company wanted to push the book database to as many libraries as possible. “If the price gets too high,” he said, “we are simply not going to have libraries that can afford to purchase it.”
Authors view the possibility of readers finding their out-of-print books as a cultural victory more than a financial one. … “Our culture is not just Stephen King’s latest novel or the new Harry Potter book,” said James Gleick, a member of the board of the Authors Guild. “It is also 1,000 completely obscure books that appeal not to the one million people who bought the Harry Potter book but to 100 people at a time.”
Some scholars worry that Google users are more likely to search for narrow information than to read at length. “I have to say that I think pedagogically and in terms of the advancement of scholarship, I have a concern that people will be encouraged to use books in this very fragmentary way,” said Alice Prochaska, university librarian at Yale.
“There is no short way to appreciate Jane Austen …,” said Paul Courant, university librarian at the University of Michigan. “But a lot of reading is going to happen on screens. One of the important things about this settlement is that it brings the literature of the 20th century back into a form that the students of the 21st century will be able to find it.”