Buy or borrow?

Most of you have probably heard by now that Google announced to put a temporary hold on scanning books that are within copyright from its partner libraries – the story was all over the media (to quote a staid resource, take the Washington Post ). Google says they’ll respect the wishes of any publisher who’ll go on record within the next 3 months that they don’t want their copyrighted books digitized. Of course the publishers are outraged – Google is threatening to turn copyright on its head by asserting that publishers have to be pro-active or be included by default.

At the end of the day, all of this is about…well, I was going to say “money,” but I don’t even want to make it sound as pernicious as that. It’s about business models. If publishers think that inclusion of their copyrighted works in Google Print means that they’ll sell fewer books, they’ll fight Google tooth and nail. If they feel that Google Print will help them sell more books (and some evidently do), they’ll join the parade. While the media talks about impact on publishers, I’m of course much more interested in the impact on libraries.

It seems that Google Print includes a “Buy It” link for all items contributed by publishers, and an additional “Find it in your (local) library” link for all books contributed through the library scanning project. What does this mean for the library “business model,” which counts patrons rather than $$$? Does this mean that more people will go to their local library to borrow a book they’ve discovered through Google Print? Evidently, the odds are somewhat tilted towards the purchasing option, since the library only comes into play when the book came from a library to begin with – in other words, you won’t be able to conveniently check availability of publisher contributed books at your local library.

I am not alone in wondering what the impact of Google Print on the information marketplace will be. Will users realize that even if there’s no library button, they could still look for this item in a library? Will they go the extra mile? Will the connection between book knowledge and web knowledge through Google Print steer users towards the resources in their libraries again? Or will the convenience of ordering the book and receiving it in the mail trump the free copy down at the library?

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One Comment

  1. “Or will the convenience of ordering the book and receiving it in the mail trump the free copy down at the library?”

    Why shouldn’t the library send the book out in the mail more cheaply than the online bookstore (and still cover costs)?

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