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Books Online: The Fee versus Free Battle Begins
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Posted On November 21, 2005
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Another micropayment program for online access to books was announced by Random House, a leading popular and trade book publisher. The company plans to use online booksellers, search engines, entertainment portals, and other appropriate vendors as outlets for online viewing of its content on a pay-per-page-view basis. In time, according to Richard Sarnoff, president of Random House, Inc.'s corporate development group, the company could eventually decide to host the service and serve pages in-house, for technical expedience. Sarnoff stated: "We believe that it is important for publishers to be innovative in providing digital options for consumers to access our content, especially in light of the emergence of ubiquitous Internet access and improved display technologies that can support sustained reading."

Agreements with vendors may differ, but the key components for Random House will have books available for full indexing, search, and display but will not allow downloading, printing, or copying. No more than 5 percent of a book's content will appear in "free sample" page views. Vendors will pay Random House 4 cents per page displayed beyond the free sample and mark up the content to consumers. Random House indicated that 99 cents for 20 pages "could represent an attractive introductory consumer offer." The company expected pricing to vary depending upon the type of content (e.g., 25 cents for a recipe page from a cookbook or at a discount for multiple pages). As long as vendors provide title-by-title reporting to Random House, the publisher will allow institutional or enterprise pricing as well as micropayments by individual customers. Vendors must have encryption and security measures to ensure protection of digital content. Random House will allow authors to "opt out" of the program.

Standard publisher/author contracts with Random House offer a higher royalty rate for digital delivery than for print (50 percent as opposed to 15 percent or less). The publisher has indicated that it plans to split the payments from the new page charge system with authors. Authors Guild executives have begun reminding authors to pay more attention to the clauses in their contracts covering digital delivery.

"Free to Me" or Other People's Money

Google continues—for now—to maintain its allegiance to business models that do not charge users directly, stating that the company is "exploring new access models to help authors and publishers sell more books online but [it doesn't] have anything to announce." At the same time, it saluted the Amazon announcement: "Amazon is a valuable partner and we link to Amazon so people can buy books they've found. We're glad our users will have additional ways to access the books they've found."

Google also commented on the Random House announcement as another illustration of the value of such services in enabling users to discover and purchase books in new ways. A Nov. 14 article in The Wall Street Journal by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Kevin J. Delaney ("Google Checks Out Interest in Online Book ‘Rental' Plan") indicated that the company has begun initial discussions with book publishers on letting readers "rent" online copies of new books for a short period of time at possibly 10 percent of the book's list price.

Last week, Google changed the name of its book program from Google Print to Google Book Search. Apparently some users were confused by the name and thought it meant that Google would help them print out user documents or Web pages visited. In announcing the service on its blog, company representatives admitted, with something of a virtual sigh: "No, we don't think that this new name will change what some folks think about this program. But we do believe it will help a lot of people understand better what we're doing. We want to make all the world's books discoverable and searchable online, and we hope this new name will help keep everyone focused on that important goal."

Responding to an inquiry on the similarity of the new name with Microsoft's MSN Book Search, a Google representative assured me that they were not imitating Microsoft. "Rather, we've re-branded to make it easier for users to understand what the service will do for them. This is important as the index now has many many more books and is becoming more of a consumer destination then when we first started."

Google has now opened up its book collection and begun to deliver full text of the public domain books digitized from its Google Library project. The http://books.google.com site restricts searches to the book results in the Google index, but the same content will also appear in Google.com Web search results. Anyone can search and browse every page and save individual page images of the public domain works, but searching in-copyright material will produce only a bibliographic description and "snippets" of keyword-in-context excerpts.

Though most of the public domain material comprises older works that have "fallen out" of copyright, uncopyrighted government documents should be more current. Search parameters include date operators, phrase searching, etc. (For more information, go to the FAQs for Google Book Search, http://books.google.com/intl/en/googlebooks/help.html.) Once located, one can use a "Search within this book" feature, order the book using the "Buy this Book" link, or—for books scanned from libraries—click on the library link to find a local library using the Open WorldCat connection. Books scanned from publisher contributions do not link through OCLC to local libraries on a Google Book Search page. To find such links, users must return to the main Google page, or possibly Google Scholar, and enter the book information again to "Find in a Library."

Users may not have to pay, but they're encouraged to help. A link at the bottom of each Google Book Search page asks, "See a problem with this page?" If so, you are encouraged to fill out a form. The FAQs also encourage users to inform Google if they find a book treated as public domain when it shouldn't be or as in-copyright when it isn't.

After that, Google hopes the people will find new and creative ways to use the public domain content ("Your imagination is the limit!"), though it wants those working with Google Book Search content to maintain attribution to Google. Chuck Hamaker, associate university librarian for collections and technical services at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte's Atkins Library, is already investigating the feasibility of adding Google Book Search links to his online catalog, bibliographic instructions, curriculum support material, etc.

In late October, Microsoft announced it was joining the OCA and beginning its own book digitization program called MSN Book Search. (See the NewsBreak "Microsoft Launches Book Digitization Project—MSN Book Search" at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16090.) Since then, it announced that the BL (http://www.bl.uk) would provide the books for the initial phase of the digitization project. The Internet Archive, OCA administrator and digitizer, will set up on-site digitization in 2006. Initial figures estimate the digitization project as 25 million pages of content. The 100,000 book commitment should cost between $2.5 million and $3 million for the first year (and this is only a start) More books could be added to the project. The project represents an element in the BL's development of the National Digital Library infrastructure.

Microsoft plans to digitize only out-of-copyright books. According to BL's Lawrence Christensen, BL has decided to restrict digitization to 19th century or earlier, but not necessarily all of that. According to Christensen, one of the advantages of dealing with the BL is taking advantage of its curators' knowledge of the more abstruse aspects of British copyright law. Apparently it haa already marked one book published in the 1850s as inadmissible to the program; it is still under copyright. In response to my inquiry, Christensen could not say who was still cashing the royalty checks. The BL already has commercial partners assisting it in digitizing material and has had an ongoing relationship with Microsoft in developing its Digital Object Management (DOM) digitization framework for archiving material "born digital."

Christensen said that, though not a member of the OCA at this time, the BL certainly shares its goals and anticipates entrance into the program with parallel efforts. The BL supplies the model OCA uses for displaying books in its Turning the Pages display (http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/ttp/ttpbooks.html), done in partnership with Armadillo Systems.

For those of little faith when it comes to Microsoft's long-term commitment to open access (OA), the company's strategy for revenue generation may be in a general process of change. On Oct. 30, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's CTO, circulated a memo with a cover letter from chairman Bill Gates, that advocated adjusting revenue generation to the Internet Age. Gates stated, "The next sea change is upon us" and Ozzie advised, "In some cases, it may be possible for one to obtain more (software) revenue through the advertising model than through a traditional licensing model."

Someone always has to pay the tab, but when it's O.P.M (Other People's Money), it feels free to the users.


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Barbara Quint is senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

Email Barbara Quint

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