Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Google Lending Books

I attended two of the very well attended Google sessions at London Bookfair last week and in the second of these Jason Hanley from Google gave a full overview of the Google book program. He also gave a very short overview of some of the new initiatives that Google is working on and one of these caught my attention.

Google propose to roll out a book 'rental' and 'retail' program sometime before the end of the year. The program will enable customers to either have lifetime access to a title if purchased or to rent a title in weekly increments. Details of the financial arrangements are being discussed with the content owners at the moment but there is no reason to believe that both of these programs will not be launched by the end of the year. The program will be optional for publishers but represents just another of the expansion of options that publishers will have to distribute, market and/or sell their content.

Details at the presentation were sketchy so I emailed Jason the following:


I attended your session at LBF last week and I was interested to learn a little more about the Book “Lending” program you touched on in New Initiatives. I would like to write something about it for my blog which is read by a fair number of librarians who would be interested in knowing more about this initiative.

Here are the brief notes I took:

  • Borrowers will have the ability to ‘rent’ or ‘borrow’ a book for a week. · Full content of the book will be available
  • This is not an ‘e-book’ program
  • It will be launched by the end of the year (together with a purchase option which you also discussed)
  • Final details are being discussed with content owners

Could you elaborate on the above by answering the following questions:

  1. Is this a lending program or a rental program?
  2. What do you mean when you describe this as not an e-book program?
  3. What will the financial model look like for publishers?
  4. Do you think the financial arrangements you arrange with publishers cascade into the current financial relationship between Libraries and Publishers? Typically publishers sell titles to libraries at a ‘short’ discount and do not receive additional payments no matter how frequently the title circulates. Presumably, in your arrangements with Publishers there will be some remittance to publishers each time a book is ‘lent’
  5. Is this an ‘add-on’ benefit to publishers of the Google Book program and as such voluntary?
  6. Is there any anticipated connection with libraries: could libraries act as intermediaries between their patrons and the Google “Lending” program or is there no practical need for this?
  7. Any other information my readers may find interesting.

Thanks and if you don’t want to say anything about the above please let me know so that I can go ahead and make it all up in my blog article.

OK so the last bit is slightly irreverant but I hope it didn't cause him not to respond because so far no response. (He did open my email).

This will be interesting to watch and I think perhaps one of the more revolutionary changes that may evolve from a program like this could be a significant change in the financial relationship between libraries and publishers. In my view the current one time fee paid to publishers by libraries has to (and will) change to a per use fee. Libraries will pay fees based on circulation of the titles - both print and e-book versions. There are a few ways this may happen and none are mutually exclusive particularly as publishers and libraries experiment. For example,

  • Calculate a unit fee per title and remit to publishers each time a title is circulated
  • Each title is 'sold' in circulation increments - perhaps they expire - so a title is sold with 10 circulation 'units' and the library pays each time the book is circulated 10 times. (Perhaps the base level - in this case 10 - values the book at the retail price)
  • Publisher agrees a site license for their titles at an institution which would be an annual fee covering all circulation for e-books and print titles. Each year the fee would be negotiated. Clearly in this case e-books are easily managed and this is a model already in place for database products but for print titles the solution would be trickier but not impossible.

In truth, evolution is coming to the relationship between publishers and libraries driven by Google and e-books and ultimately these changes will result in libraries becoming more relevant to publishers not less. As libraries are networked and catalogs indexed their collections are more accessible which means that publishers may want a bigger slice of revenue but it may also mean that they want to ensure that this avenue to consumers that libraries represent presents all their products in the best possible manner. That will mean that libraries get more attention and possibly are able to lend more content. Change is good.


Adam Hodgkin said...

Fascinating post. I am not surprised that Google have not yet responded. They surely dont yet know where they stand on most of this. There may also be a lot of lawyers looking at what they say...

PersonaNonData said...

Thanks for the comment. I didn't really think that he would reply and I agree they are probably quite particular about what they say. We may hear more about this and other stuff when they present at BookExpo at the end of the month.

Mike said...

Been thinking about this same subject from a slightly different angle. When OverDrive and netLibrary invented the library ebook model, from the very beginning they used DRM so that the libraries couldn't lend more copies at one time than they had purchased. And in this way imitated the economics of physical books that a digital world might have sidestepped.
But there's another difference: ebooks don't wear out and they don't get lost, either. So every copy lasts forever. Real books aren't like that: you lend them 25, 50, 100 times; eventually you have to replace them.
I believe audio publishers have already discovered the concept of limiting the number of loans before you pay more. That puts them back to the world of cassettes (which wear out; CDs only get lost.)
If library loans move much more to ebooks -- or should we say "when" -- then the replacement sale market on backlist, which is not insubstantial, will be lost unless a number of loans cap is put into place.

James Bridle said...

Hi Michael - well, we didn't manage to meet at the Fair, but we almost certainly attended the same presentations. While I'm essentially a big fan of GBS, they've started to make me very nervous with the way they're talking.

Essentially, they're misleading publishers, and it's not good.

I wrote about it here, if you're interested, together with links to further discussion, and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts:

Yarfoz said...

A mí la idea me parece, en principio, positiva: toda la cultura universal, todos los libros jamás editados, sin trabas, al alcance por igual de plebes y aristocracias. Pero surgen a mi ver, dos graves problemas al menos para este proyecto de futuro próximo:

1. La página digital jamás podrá sustituir a la de papel pues tiene efectos diferentes -más pobres- en el lector.

2. Existen determinados libros que, en sesencia y por su contenido, están escritos para llegar a un número reducido y exquisito de lectores. Y de este modo perderían su esencia, morirían difusos en el maremágnum de la vulgaridad moderna. Hablo, por ejemplo, de una edición surrealista de André Breton o de Tristan Tzara publicada en los años veinte, o de las "Soledades" de Góngora.

3. En estos tiempos de adocenamiento cultural, aborregamiento y sumisión a lo políticamente correcto (y no hablo sólo de nuestra decadente España) el poner toda la infinita cultura universal al alcance de la gleba no soluciona nada; más bien lo empeora todo. Las neuronas al uso están cada vez menos preparadas para digerir o procesar toda esa información abrumadora, carentes de una formación cultural mínima que pueda siquiera situar esas obras hisóricas, filosóficas o literarias en su contexto. Y el efecto producudo es justamente el contrario: el rechazo frontal a la lectura/cultura y lo que esto conlleva, animalización y falta de libertad, pero justamente -estoy convencidísimo de ello- lo que pretenden los gerifaltes del Sistema: una población global cada vez más inculta y sumisa en esta nueva era de esclavismo mental y laboral.

Como siempre, las nuevas tecnologías (y Google es el mejor ejemplo) al servicio de la maldita globalización, pero de un modo hipócrita: vendiéndonos la moto de la democratización de la cultura pero pervirtiendo ésta, matándola, masificándola hasta el vómito para formar nuevos esclavos.

Un saludo a todos.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me how to obtain his e-mail address as I would also like to contact him.

PersonaNonData said...

It was last name @