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.
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Filed Under: copyright, data, economics, google book search, publishers
Companies: google

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  1. identicon
    Franklin Draper, 24 Aug 2010 @ 2:11pm


    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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