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Book Biz

Aug
18
2005

This week’s column over at eWeek is about Google Print and the pressure the giagantico on-line media and advertising company is placing on the book business.
The story has the sort of web-booster drop head (that’s the little paragraph below the main headline) that I try to avoid. It’s another one of those “Lookee: Technology Matters” cheers that take away from what you’re trying to say. But that’s a minor point.
Google’s doing some clever positioning with its decisions to copy — it’s using the more politically correct verb “scan” — all the books in the libraries where’s it’s cut deals. It’s going after college students — future users for the next generation — with this deal, getting them to think that everything that’s worth knowing is on the Internet. If you’re a book publisher, this is going to hurt your business in ways you can’t — or won’t — even consider.
Of course, for us, that’s kind of a obvious statement. We’ve seen it with the record business; we’re seeing it with the newspaper business. But there is – and there will remain for some time, I’m afraid – an enormous gulf between those who understand this new world and those who fear it. A long conversation with Allan Adler, the book publishers’ lobbyist, convinced me of that. Although they are perfectly happy to sell books on-line (the web as a giant cash register remains the favorite vision of the not-so-technical) Adler’s members don’t want to become web sites.
Why? Because web sites don’t make any money. To which any sane person asks: And the book business does? This is an industry that turns up its nose at anything that’s not in the New York Times but considers a “best seller” to be anything that sells 100,000 copies. You wanna know how we got three books about Enron and AOL and why those works were considered “dot.com era” books. This is how. These folks aren’t ostriches. They’re moles.
To start with, the idea that a web site must be — by definition — free is starting to fade away. The Wall Street Journal went first. Some smart book publisher — probably one already on the web — will figure out how to put the infrastructure in place to sell books to a modern (and by that I mean young) audience. But first they’re going to have to get over the idea that any and all change is a bad idea.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 10:38 AM | Permalink

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