Google will handle distribution and purchases of the e-book versions of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, which is due out this fall. Rowling has decided to shun the publishing industry by self-publishing the e-book version of the Potter series, and selling the books directly to customers, through the Pottermore website. To achieve this goal, the Harry Potter series will be distributed through Google Books, starting this fall. Digital audiobooks formats will also be available.
While the Google Books settlement meanders on in one courtroom after another, Google also announced this week that they will be opening an e-book store of their own in 2010. Google Editions will compete with Amazon’s Kindle store and Barnes & Noble’s e-book offerings. That puts the big three all in play — all that’s left now is for Apple to get in the game.
Amazon has ridiculous amounts of selection and they have the PR — every time you buy something at Amazon these days, whether it’s the new bestseller or salad tongs, you are told you could have bought the Kindle version. Barnes & Noble is trying to catch up with this game, including their own e-reader (to be announced possibly as early as next week). Now Google Editions, like the Sony e-reader device, will be embracing universal format for its offerings. From PC World:
Google’s e-books will be accessible through any Web-enabled computer, e-reader, or mobile phone instead of a dedicated device. This will allow content to be unchained from expensive devices such as Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader.
I admit I like that aspect. If I’m going to own an e-book (and more on that in a second), I sure as heck want to be able to read it anywhere, my computer, my laptop, my iPhone. Right now my e-book usage is minimal (I haven’t paid for one yet, just downloaded some free stuff) but primarily I’ve been using Stanza, a free app for my iPhone. You can sync content from your computer to the app, supposedly — I’ve never gotten that to work. Far better, though, is the workaround I found out about — this site, Bookworm EPUB reader. It’s a free online storage site for your e-books (the ones that are in universal EPUB format) so that you can then access them anywhere, from any mobile device or computer. You can even choose to “open in Stanza”, and voila, that’s what I did. The other night I actually “curled up” with the iPhone and read a book that way and, I have to say, it wasn’t bad. Stanza has nice touch controls and ease of use, and I didn’t mind the small screen at all. Nice. I guess e-books are okay, and I can see myself reading more of them in the future. I’m also excited about the idea of being able to rent e-books from the library. Now that I could get on board with. If I borrow a book from the library, I’m not planning on owning it anyhow, so whether digital or paper copy, what difference does it make? But e-books replacing paper books in my life? Still kind of inconceivable.
However, as democratizing as this sounds, it’s still unclear how many people are ready to curl up with a Google Editions title on their laptop or smartphone, instead of the traditional paper format.
Yeah, that’s the rub.
I’ve been trying to keep up with the Google Books story because I think whatever happens will have a huge impact on both the publishing industry and on libraries. It’s not easy to do, though — every day there’s something in the news about it, but nothing huge has happened, really; these things are always slow. This morning, though, a significant development. From cnet:
The judge overseeing Google Books settlement has agreed to the plaintiffs’ request for a delay of the final hearing scheduled to approve the controversial settlement, which is being reworked by the parties.
Judge Denny Chin of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York had been scheduled to oversee a October 7 hearing about whether to approve a 2008 settlement between Google and several groups representing authors and publishers. However, the settlement, which gives Google sweeping rights to digitize out-of-print but copyright protected books, has drawn staunch opposition from many corners of the literary world as well as the U.S. Department of Justice.
As a result, the settlement is in the process of being reworked, and Judge Chin agreed to give the parties more time to rework the settlement following a request from the plaintiffs filed earlier this week. “Under all the circumstances, it makes no sense to conduct a hearing on the fairness and reasonableness of the current settlement agreement, as it does not appear that the current settlement will be the operative one,” Chin wrote in a letter sent to both parties.
Instead, the parties will hold a status conference on the 7th to figure out what to do next. Chin noted that this case has been in the works for over four years, when groups representing authors and publishers sued Google in 2005 for digitizing books without explicit permission.
I’m not entirely convinced about this whole ebook thing anyhow. I have, though, been playing around with Stanza on my iPhone. It’s a free app from Lexcycle (terrible name choice, for an IT company; it makes me think about exercising, not computers), and you can also download Stanza Desktop, and convert files on your hard drive to be uploaded to Stanza. In a variety of ways, thankfully, because I can’t get the my iPhone to sync with Desktop, which it’s supposed to do wirelessly through a little side-program called Bonjour. (“Bonjour!” Of course it’s named Bonjour. Apple is just so très Continental, it’s cute as hell.) I suspect it’s something to do with my wireless network, which I don’t feel like monkeying with. I found a fun work-around using a site called Bookworm; you upload your EPUB files there, visit the site on your iPhone, and then you can open what you put there in Stanza. It’s also a nifty place to store your ebooks online, no matter where you’re going to be using them.
If I’m not convinced about ereaders and ereading in general why do I care? For my own stuff. Unpublished stuff. I’ve done some writing in my time, and so have some of my friends. I can convert those files and read them any time, now. A short story a friend has written, favorite poetry I’ve collected over the years. That kind of thing. I only had this stuff digitally to begin with, so it’s fun to be able to carry it around with me as well. Fun, but not worth $299; however, Stanza-for-free (well, since I already have an iPhone) seems like a bargain.
As a side note, Google announced this morning that they will adopt the EPUB file format for Google Books; users will still be able to download files as PDFs, but the EPUB format is a free & open standard, usable by pretty much every ereader out there, so that’s a plus. Apparently this is a bit of a strike back against Amazon’s Kindle, which can certainly read EPUBs, but the Amazon Kindle Store sells its ebooks in a proprietary format that can only be read on the Kindle. Google’s move is seen as one that backs Sony instead; Sony just announced last week that it will be embracing the EPUB open format as well.
I love this whole little ebook mini-drama. There’s Google, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony. Everyone’s mad at Google for stealing all the books. But everyone thinks Amazon’s a big ol’ snob with their proprietary files and whatnot. Sony’s givin’ it to the man, and then there’s Barnes & Noble out there going, “Wait! *We’re* the book people!”
As I posted a few weeks ago and you have surely read about in the news (when you weren’t watching town hall meetings turn into bizarro-world, that is) Google Books negotiated a legal settlement recently that isn’t sitting well with a lot of folks. Apparently the Other Big Three are weighing in.
From AP, via Huffington Post:
Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon to challenge Google Books deal
SAN FRANCISCO — The fight against a legal settlement that would give Google Inc. the digital rights to millions of copyrighted books is starting to resemble a heavyweight brawl in the library.
Microsoft Corp., Yahoo Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. are joining a coalition that hopes to rally opposition to Google’s digital book ambitions and ultimately persuade a federal judge to block or revise the Internet search leader’s plans.
The group, to be called the Open Book Alliance, is being put together by the Internet Archive, a longtime critic of Google’s crusade to make digital copies of as many printed books as possible. A growing number of critics already have filed objections to Google’s book settlement, but none have the clout that the Open Book Alliance figures to wield with three of the world’s best-known technology companies on board.
Here’s an admission for you: I have a hard time comprehending all of the details around what Google Books is up to. I gather they’re scanning everything (though not necessarily well — more on that in a sec) ever published, posting the out-of-copyright stuff, linking to snippets of the other stuff, and there are some folks objecting to that, so there’s a lawsuit, and a settlement in the works. This article, The Audacity of the Google Book Search Settlement, caught my eye today, and laid out some of the legal hoop-jumping, so that helped. And I know that the American Library Association has been having their say, as they generally do (not a fan, but that’s another post). I’m just not sure what I think of it all.
I digitized a book myself last year, a book the Town of Amherst holds the copyright to so no worries there, and is long out of print (A History of the Town of Amherst, New York, 1818-1865). It was a painful, arduous process, and I even had a grant to do it, but oy, I’m not sure I’d gear up for that again. But there’s Google Books, with tons of resources, just scanning and posting away, and doing all the heavy lifting, so that’s good, right? For the same reason I scanned my one book (it’s useful to local researchers and there are only a few copies out there, so this way anyone can access it), Google Books is scanning, well, all the books.
But — I’ve been playing around with the Barnes & Noble ereader app for the iPhone, and used it to download a handful of free ebooks from Google Books. The results have all been poor. Emma chopped off a few words at the beginning and had all kinds of bad characters, poor OCR. Ditto for Persuasion. Virgil’s Aeneid wasn’t so bad. But Anna Karenina was missing the first four chapters — completely missing them. I was appalled. The sloppy OCR I can try to get past (though…) but leaving out four chapters?!