New Research Suggest Google Book Search Helps Publishers A Lot More Than It Hurts

from the nice-to-see-some-data dept

For years, we've suggested that the fears of various publishers, that Google's book scanning/book search project was somehow a bad thing, were way overblown. We'd seen reports noting that putting your books into Google's book search often helped increase sales, and some enlightened publishers have started to realize the same thing. Yet, to hear some publishers and Google critics talk about it, you would think that the Google book scanning offering was the worst thing ever -- with some comparing Google to the Taliban. Yet, if you take a step back, and realize just how powerful and useful a universal searchable library of books would be, it's difficult to see how that's a bad thing.

But, now we've got a bit more evidence. Michael Scott points us to a new research paper from law professor Hannibal Travis, that tries to look at the actual economic impact of Google's book scanning on publishers, and finds that the falling sky claims from publishers and critics simply isn't supported by the evidence:
First, it finds little support for the much-discussed hypothesis of the Association of American Publishers and Google's competitors that the mass digitization of major U.S. libraries will reduce the revenues and profits of the most-affected publishers. In fact, the revenues of the publishers who believe themselves to be most aggrieved by GBS, as measured by their willingness to file suit against Google for copyright infringement, increased at a faster rate after the project began, as compared to before its commencement. Their profits also increased significantly more on average from 2005 to 2008 than from 2001 to 2004. The increased rate of growth by publishers most affected by GBS does not disappear when one compares it to the growth of the U.S. economy or to the growth of retail sales. The continued rise in sales is remarkable when one considers the soaring sales and prices of other entertainment products that may compete with books.

Second, this Article finds some support for the view that mass digitization and expanded access to book previews may increase the revenues and profits of the most-affected publishers. The evidence for this proposition takes the form of large increases in revenues and profits for publishers affected by GBS who did not opt out of Google's publishing partner agreement for broader access to previews of works still in copyright.

Third, it seems that GBS may simultaneously vindicate the public interest in expanded access to the world's cultural heritage and the pecuniary interests of authors and publishers in recouping the substantial fixed costs of book and periodical production and distribution. Analyzing this virtuous circle can help us begin to theorize the relationship between the Internet industry, the producers of cultural products, and the wider public. This relationship is also visible with other advanced Internet services such as YouTube or DailyMotion, which may increase viewership of copyrighted works that they may infringe, such as television shows.
Obviously, this seems to go beyond just Google's book search, in showing that greater access can certainly lead to greater revenue and profits for those who embrace it. Definitely another worthwhile paper to read on the subject.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    out_of_the_blue, Aug 24th, 2010 @ 9:19am

    Was the help to search and sales in question?

    But is the likelihood of Google becoming *the* gatekeeper -- a de facto copyright owner of much existing works including public domain -- worth the relatively minor interim value of searching? Google is in it for the long haul, and even *if* not already evil, will *undoubtedly* turn evil; there has *yet* to be a corporation that didn't.

     

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  2.  
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    Nick, Aug 24th, 2010 @ 9:29am

    If this access is so valuable, others will just do the same and scan the books like Google did. In all likelihood, scanning will be even cheaper in the future (better scanners, better ocr...).

     

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  3.  
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    Bengie, Aug 24th, 2010 @ 9:30am

    Re: Was the help to search and sales in question?

    So, we can't enjoy the enormous benefits of a central storage of everything because whomever controls it will become evil.

    The sad sad state of humanity.

     

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  4.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 24th, 2010 @ 10:17am

    Re: Was the help to search and sales in question?

    But is the likelihood of Google becoming *the* gatekeeper -- a de facto copyright owner of much existing works including public domain -- worth the relatively minor interim value of searching?

    First of all, I don't believe that the "interim value of searching" is minor at all. I believe it is massively valuable.

    Second, I agree that I don't think Google should become the de facto gatekeeper, which is why I don't like the Google books settlement, and I keep hoping that some of the other book scanning projects take off as well. I would prefer multiple versions of this library be available.

     

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  5.  
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    Franklin Draper, Aug 24th, 2010 @ 11:25am

    Ah I wouldn't be so quick to jump on this bandwagon

    I can think of a dozen books that I didn't buy because Google displayed the 10 pages in each that I needed to read for my project. If Google Books weren't around, I probably would have bought five of them. And that's in the last year.

    To be honest, I can't think of a single book that I read on Google books and decided to buy because what I saw on the screen. I could see that happening for some fiction, but most of what I read is technical and non-fiction. I don't get hooked in, I find the part that I need and move on.

    This is a pretty political hot button. Mike, could you confirm that you don't get any revenue from Google? Oh wait, you get Google Ad money. Do you do any private consulting for them? Any private corporate intelligence?

     

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  6.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 24th, 2010 @ 12:12pm

    Re: Ah I wouldn't be so quick to jump on this bandwagon

    I can think of a dozen books that I didn't buy because Google displayed the 10 pages in each that I needed to read for my project. If Google Books weren't around, I probably would have bought five of them. And that's in the last year.

    No one said that it means you would buy the same books as before. And no one said that there wouldn't be some cases where it would lead to a book not being purchased. But that's a false standard.

    This is a pretty political hot button. Mike, could you confirm that you don't get any revenue from Google? Oh wait, you get Google Ad money. Do you do any private consulting for them? Any private corporate intelligence?

    Google ads represent less than 1% of our revenue and I've never done any private consulting for them. I once spoke at a Google event years ago and Google once sponsored an event that I ran -- but the amount of money made was again less than 1% of our revenue.

    I am critical of Google when I feel it's appropriate, just as I am critical of any company that advertises on the site or hires us when appropriate. Amusingly, when I am critical of our advertisers, the same trolls say "oh my, don't you think someone should tell so-and-so not to advertise on your site any more since you trash them." In fact, one of the reasons why companies hire us is because our positions are brutally honest and we tell companies what they need to hear.

    Either way, this particular post was not pro-Google. It was writing about a specific research project. What I find telling is you don't dispute the actual findings in the research and the data, but instead pretend that a single datapoint (you) disputes the findings and then accuse me of some unfair bias.

    Nice try.

     

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  7.  
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    Jay (profile), Aug 24th, 2010 @ 1:19pm

    Re: Re: Was the help to search and sales in question?

    Other projects?

    I've yet to hear of any other save Google books because that's the one everyone continuously attacks.

     

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  8.  
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    Franklin Draper, Aug 24th, 2010 @ 2:11pm

    Well...

    Sorry, I was too busy to address the research itself. I just wanted to report that it was quite divergent from my own experiences-- something that I think is worth contributing. Maybe I'm the only one but I don't think I'm that odd.

    First, I want to know how odd I may be. How many books did you buy this last year because of tasting them on Google Books? I'm curious whether any other readers would like to contribute data points and guess at the number of books they bought versus the books they skipped buying because of Google's helpful hand?

    Second, it's easy to start poking at this research. Here are some potshots:

    * It ignores 2009. Simon and Schuster's profits dropped 46% in 2009 for instance. No time to check the others, but I wouldn't be surprised if they're worse.

    * Not that it matters because the noise is huge. The revenue at McGraw Hill depended more on the ad sales at Business Week than on the sales of books like the ones in the GBS.

    * Most people are just moving to digital platforms. The battle is over the future. I contend that my anecdotal evidence is more valuable than the ad sales at BusinessWeek because most people are just beginning to consider alternatives to paper books. In 2008, the last year of the survey, the iPad wasn't even released yet.

    But these are just random reflections.

     

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  9.  
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    Personanondata, Aug 24th, 2010 @ 3:47pm

    Next to Useless

    Sorry, there is just no way using the financial data he uses that he could draw any conclusion with respect to the Google book program. He even says that himself when he refers to subsequent researchers who might have access to better data. He should have given up then.

     

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  10.  
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    Bort Sarsgaard, Aug 24th, 2010 @ 4:52pm

    Speaking personally, on dozens of occasions I have purchased books from which I viewed parts of through Google Books. Most often these are used books, but not always.

    I wish Google Books had more of a browsable "shelf", like some of the library systems are starting to have. I really want to see what books would be next to the one I'm looking at, if I were actually in a library.

     

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  11.  
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    Suzanne Lainson (profile), Aug 24th, 2010 @ 5:35pm

    Re: Well...

    Maybe I'm the only one but I don't think I'm that odd.

    I've been kind of amazed at how much info I can find via Google Book Search without having to actually see the book.

    And that's why I'm also surprised when people say they are having trouble doing research because of copyright issues. I do a lot of research and between libraries and Google Book Search, I find the world of information quite accessible.

    Now, because of how much information is online, I rarely need to go to a library anymore, and I have a university library within walking distance from where I live. Occasionally I will read a magazine online via my public library, but that has been all I have needed.

    There are a few publications I don't get to see because there aren't any libraries subscribing and I don't want to subscribe personally, but if I used them everyday, I would subscribe.

     

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    Tek'a R (profile), Aug 24th, 2010 @ 7:35pm

    Re:

    I wish Google Books had more of a browsable "shelf", like some of the library systems are starting to have. I really want to see what books would be next to the one I'm looking at, if I were actually in a library.


     This is an interesting statement and  (to me) an important one. All venues, be they libraries or bookstores, serve two basic functions. They act as a Source, that is they actually make the books available to you to buy, borrow, etc. They have the books and get them to you. But they also act (in a small way) as a Filter,  what is available, what is not, so on. Since even the digital bookshelves are not quite infinite, the context matters more and more as things jockey for position.


     So as the actual sourcing of material grows more diverse and we could purchase anything from anywhere, we have to search harder and harder to find a good filter. This ability to (more or less) get people what they are looking for has served google well as a search engine and we are seeing similar "if you like this, try that" efforts from groups like Amazon and Netflix

     

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  13.  
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    Deirdre (profile), Aug 25th, 2010 @ 6:54am

    Google books value for me is access to oop books and emphera that have been long ago purged from my local public library due to the lack of circulation. It would take a lot of digging in a University library to come up with popular male fashions from 1911, but I found it on Google in a few seconds from a period source, i.e., not a retrospective look at male fashions for the second decade of the 20th century which has been run through the filter of time.

    I also had the pleasure of running into a book scanned by Google about a notorious crime in England, written by an acquaintance of the family involved and with notes hand written by the author of a later account of the events. The book had come from his personal library. That was a treasure.

     

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  14.  
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    David Crotty, Aug 25th, 2010 @ 10:16am

    Re:

    ---If this access is so valuable, others will just do the same and scan the books like Google did---

    No, they won't. They will be in violation of the law if they do so. This settlement is exclusive to Google. For another group to do the same, they would have to 1) violate the law, 2) get sued, 3) get that suit changed to a "class action" suit, 4) negotiate the same settlement as Google, 5) get that settlement legally approved.

    The Google Books Settlement is an attempt to use a class action lawsuit to change the law in favor of one single solitary company. That's the problem here, not the Google Books program. Make the settlement open to all comers and it's a lot less offensive. Or, better yet, get Congress to change the actual laws on orphan works so the settlement in unnecessary.

    Note that the settlement also apparently violates many international treaties and laws as well, which is problematic. And, even if this lawsuit is settled, there's already another one filed for illustrators and photographers who want to protect the copyright of their works contained in the books covered in this settlement.

     

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  15.  
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    Barbara Fister, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 7:18am

    library scans v. publisher program

    If you can read pages of a book it is either in the public domain (pre-1923) or it is content supplied by the publisher. The class action lawsuit that led to the still-unsettled settlement has to do with those book that may not be in the public domain or are clearly under copyright that were scanned in libraries without the publishers' involvement. In those cases, the scanning only serves to index the content of those books and show you a line or two. (Publishers were also angry that Google provided libraries with a scanned copy that is not being made available other than as an index (Hathi Trust) or as an archival copy that is not publicly available.) If they voluntarily submit materials to Google, they must feel it's in their interest to do so. And if you're finding all the content you need, you are doing so because the publisher put it there and it is not in legal dispute.

     

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  16.  
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    GagdetMama, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 7:35am

    Yes the revenue for publishers increased, but has anyone looked at the price of books lately, especially academic titles (which was a large part of the original Google project)? When Brill can charge $115 for about 120 pp., something's wrong.

     

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  17.  
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    Michael Godeck, Aug 26th, 2010 @ 8:18am

    the greater good

    You miss the point entirely. Google books increases discoverability, that's great that can be exploited to increase sales. The problem with the GBS is that it grants through a civil court this incredibly valuable concession to to single company, when the same question was on track to be resolved legislatively, with the Orphan Copyright Act, killed in committee in October of 2008. The Orphan Copyright Act addressed the most important central questions of the GBS, but in an equitable way, providing for vastly expanded access to out-of-print books. Instead we get British East India company of the written word, and publishers are supposed to be troglodytes if they aspire to a greater good?

    There are many ways I can exploit the GBS, and I will, but it doesn't change the fact that it falls so terribly short of serving the public good that it is not unreasonable to characterize it as horrific.

     

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