Ask The Editor

November 30, 2008

New life for old books

Filed under: Commentary,Publishing technology,The Publishing Biz — editorialconsultant @ 5:43 pm

James Gleick has a lovely op ed in today’s New York Times about what the recent settlement between Google and the Authors Guild means for the future of books.

Gleick helped to negotiate the settlement, which allows Google to scan millions of books (something it already was doing without permission), and make those books available online. When readers access the books, the copyright owner will share in any advertising revenue.

Gleick sums up why this is a good thing for the millions of books that would otherwise be mostly unavailable:

In bookstores, the trend for a decade or more has been toward shorter shelf life. Books have had to sell fast or move aside. Now even modest titles have been granted a gift of unlimited longevity.

What should an old-fashioned book publisher do with this gift? Forget about cost-cutting and the mass market. Don’t aim for instant blockbuster successes. You won’t win on quick distribution, and you won’t win on price. Cyberspace has that covered.

Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.

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