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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Wednesday, March 07, 2007

    e-books and search

    Yesterday Tim O'Reilly blogged at unusual length about the attack by Microsoft on Google at the Association of American Publishers (AAP). What he had to say is unsurprising to those who have been following the protracted debate on copyright and the right of Google to scan books from libraries. AAP is suing Google for scanning books from libraries. I have commented on the debate several times here, but now Microsoft (don't they also scan book collections?) in the person of Tom Rubin says:
    In my view, Google has chosen the wrong path for the longer term, because it systematically violates copyright and deprives authors and publishers of an important avenue for monetizing their works. In doing so, it undermines critical incentives to create.
    Obviously, the argument depends on whether we agree that Google is indeed 'violating copyright' or - as it claims - simply facilitating access; in Tim O'Reilly's words:
    Once all books are searchable, we will discover which of the 32 million out of print books now only in libraries are valuable, and publishers will be incentivized to clear the rights to those books and bring them back to life.
    However, what caught my eye in the Radar posting was the statement that,
    If books don't become part of the online search economy, they are doomed to eventual irrelevance.
    Wow! Really?

    Some people just read them.

    If it can be claimed that "the opposition to Google Book Search by the AAP is nothing more than posturing", I would have to suggest that such a piece of rhetoric is also posturing!

    Let's be very clear - both books and e-books are designed for reading: reading for pleasure, reading for scholarship, reading for learning: reading. e-Books - and I am a huge advocate of e-books - were once defined as "the result of integrating classical book structure, or rather the familiar concept of a book, with features that can be provided within an electronic environment", and one of those features is most definitely Search. But Search is a feature which adds value to an existing text; if its use removes the need for reading, THEN authors, publishers and the AAP might feel justifiably upset.

    I think Tim O'Reilly probably wrote that comment meaning that if out-of-copyright books in libraries don't become part of the online search economy... in which case he may be right, they would be marginalised and left to the preserve of a very few scholars.

    What I have to wonder with regard to Google Book Search (or any other digitisation project such as the British Library/Microsoft one) is whether the huge effort and cost is justified? Certainly access is opened up to anyone who searches, but - when it comes down to it - wont 90% of the use still be by those same few scholars?

    Is this the long tail wagging the dog?

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