Books written by Ray Sullivan

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Sometimes Standing Still Lets Progress Catch Up

It seems a long time ago - heck, it is a long time ago - that the publishing industry took exception to Google digitising out of print but still copyright books.  Seven years for those of you counting.  Basically Google decided that if Penguin or Pearson or whoever had the rights to a book that people wanted to read but weren't prepared to make it available then it should be digitised and made available.

It probably sounds a little quaint, perhaps a tad precocious now, but seven years ago eBooks were in their infancy.  eReaders were thin on the ground and were mega-expensive by today's standards and phones weren't that smart at all.  The only real opportunity to read eBooks for most people was on their PC which still isn't that good a process.

Anyway, the publishers weren't that happy to have their contractually secured content digitised without their permission - by the way, you won't hear much about the authors in this blog because the way the industry worked back then was that you were picked up by a publisher if you were very, very lucky (talented helped too, especially if the author wasn't a celebrity with a convenient ghost writer), and that was it.  The publisher printed what they felt was an economical amount of books and if they sold, then perhaps a few more.  Eventually, sometimes a little sooner than some would like, they stopped printing.  This isn't that unreasonable given the economics of the print industry.  Google's thought process was to digitise these books that the publishers felt were now uneconomical to push the eBook concept.

Publishers didn't like it and seven years of litigation technically ensued.  Actually, it ensued pretty seriously initially, because the publishing industry didn't like the idea of eBooks at all.  In fact I'm not sure they're that keen on them as a concept now, but I think they have come to terms with the inevitability over the last 12 to 18 months and who knows, they might be making some money out of the idea now.

Somewhere along the way Google sat down with the publishing industry - individually, collectively, however it worked - and agreed to make 20% of each title they had digitised available as a free download and provided the publishers with a free copy of the digitised document that they could sell.  Effectively the issue has been resolved for some time now, especially as the publishing industry is getting increasingly cool with the  eBook concept.  So this week the litigation was officially dropped.

OK, Google forced the issue seven years ago and then, apart from some sensible discussions with the industry guys feeding the lawyers, have effectively stood still (or their ground, depending on your point of view).  And the eBook thing has carried on and overtaken the whole issue to the point that even lawyers have had to stand down, now there's a thing!

Sometimes, when you get a good idea and nobody seems to be listening, it may be that you're just a little ahead of the world.  Don't give up, try standing still, because sometimes progress just needs a little time to catch up.


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