Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2006 Issue

Google Plans To "Sell" Books

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Google plans to sell online access to books through its Google Book Search.


By Michael Stillman

Google took another step this past month to work its way into the world of books, and even more significantly, into the business of books. This is not the first such step, and we highly doubt it will be the last. Google appears determined to insert itself into this world that most of us who visit this site inhabit. The only question that remains is just how deeply and in what ways Google intends to become involved.

Last year we saw the development of the Google Print project. This involves the digitization of millions of old books from the collections of several important libraries. These records are placed into a database which can be searched in a manner similar to the way Google searches the internet. While a great many, probably the majority of these books have seen their copyrights expire, others are still protected. This resulted in much consternation on the part of some copyright holders, who were not satisfied by Google's pledges to show only snippets from their books, rather than the complete text. Nor were all satisfied with Google's willingness to point searchers to places where they could buy these texts. This debate shows no sign of abating, and meanwhile, Google plows ahead with its digitization project.

In November, Google took another step, more verbal than physical, but potentially very meaningful. They changed their program's name from the more scholarly sounding Google Print to the more active Google Book Search. We have heard that traffic has increased substantially since the name change, but are not able to verify this.

Now, Google has made a new offer to book publishers. The monster search engine has offered to put their books up online through Google Book Search and sell access to the text. Publishers could choose what books to make available (including newer ones), how much to charge, what type of access to provide, and whether the customer could print a copy of the book. Details of the program have not been spelled out, but it might work like this: customer finds a book through Google Book Search. They give Google their credit card number, and thereby receive access to view the book online, perhaps forever. The means for preventing others from piggybacking on that access is not spelled out, but perhaps the online text could only be seen if accessed through the customer's IP address.

No division of revenue has been stated, other than the majority will go to the publisher. One website stated the split would be 70-30, but we cannot confirm this. Nor do we know what, if any, credit card processing fee Google might charge, but those who have followed recent developments at Abebooks understand this can be a contentious issue.

This development certainly isn't going to be a threat to booksellers who deal in collectible works. We doubt that it will have much impact on those who buy used books for casual reading. However, it could have some impact on the fringes. Perhaps students who purchase used books as part of a school assignment will opt for online access instead, particularly if it is cheaper. Copyright holders of out-of-print books should welcome this program. Right now, they receive nothing from the resale of their old books. Now, they can once again sell their old books despite their being out of print. They will have a decided price advantage, since they do not have to charge shipping and handling, and have no associated costs. They can simply sell access, which costs them nothing, for less than the cost of shipping and have a guaranteed price advantage every time.

Stay tuned for further developments. We do not know what Google's long-term intentions are for the book trade. Perhaps they do not know yet either. What we do believe is their involvement will, in time, be quite substantial, and we will not be surprised if it touches the old and collectible trade as well.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Caius Julius Hyginus, <i>Poeticon Astronomicon,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1482. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Giovanni Botero, <i>Le Relationi Universali... divise in Sette Parti</i>, Venice, 1618. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> <i>L'Escole des Filles</i>, likely third edition of the first work of pornographic fiction in French, 1676. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Illuminated Book of Hours in Latin on vellum, Flanders, early 16th century. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes Regiomontanus, <i>Calendarium,</i> Venice, 1485. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Pedro de Medina, <i>Libro d[e] gra[n]dezas y cosas memorables de España,</i> Alcalá de Henares, 1566. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:<br>Early Printed, Medical, Scientific & Travel Books</b>
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b><br>Luis de Lucena, <i>Arte de Ajedres,</i> Salamanca, circa 1496-97. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Andrés Serrano, <i>Los Siete Principes de los Ángeles, válidos de Rey del Cielo,</i> Spain, 1707. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Mar 8:</b> Johannes de Sacrobosco, <i>Sphaera mundi,</i> first illustrated edition, Venice, 1478. $15,000 to $20,000.
  • <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> A Rare 3-rotor German Enigma I Enciphering Machine. $70,000 to $90,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Important collection of correspondence between Werner Heisenberg and Bruno Rossi. $40,000 to $60,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Walt Whitman Autograph manuscript containing his thoughts on death. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> David Roberts. <i>Holy Land</i>. Six volumes. 1842-1849. First edition. $15,000 to $25,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Extensive collection of Ray Bradbury's primary works, most signed or inscribed. $15,000 to $20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Peter Force. Declaration of Independence. $12,000 to $18,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Steinbeck. <i>Grapes of Wrath</i>. A fine copy of the first edition. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Lewis & Clark. <i>Travels to the Source of the Missouri River</i>... First English edition, extra-illustrated. 1814. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> Manuscript document signed by Nuno de Guzman relating to Hernan Cortes, 1528. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Feb. 11:</b> “Nos los inquisidores..." The first book in English printed West of the Mississippi. [1787]. $5,000 to $8,000.

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