All of Fiction Costs $125 Million
As we all know, Google recently bought all out-of-print fiction from the "Author's Guild" for $125 million dollars. This laughable, ludicrously small price is the kind of price that somebody would only offer for something that they didn't actually own.

You know, like Napoleon selling Louisiana to America in order to pay for his war in Europe. And then America sends Louis and Clark out to explore, and it turns out there are all these dirty fucking NATIVES there. Luckily, they need blankets.

Anyway, Gawker recently leaked the memo that the "Author's Guild" sent out to writers and publishers who will be receiving the payments that the "Author's Guild" negotiated on their behalf.

Note: writers and publishers will be receiving $45 million of the settlement, which is (I'm not a mathematician) less than half of the agreed-upon $125 million dollar payout. The rest of the money will be going to lawyers and (I guess) the "Authors Guild" to help fund their next act of heroism.

The "Author's Guild" memo contains instructions for "claiming your book" from Google. Here is instruction number one:

"1. If you file your claim by January 5, 2010, and a book in which you have a copyright interest [THAT YOU WROTE] is scanned by Google before May 5, 2009, you will be entitled to a small share (at least $60 per book, but up to $300, depending on the number of claims [DON'T GET GREEDY])"

So, the verdict is in, and the settlement to writers is that they will each receive less than $300 bucks for their stolen books. Here's a short history: writers got mad that GOOGLE WAS STEALING THEIR BOOKS BY SCANNING THEM WITHOUT ASKING AND MAKING THEM AVAILABLE ONLINE, writers appealed to the "Author's Guild" for help, the "Author's Guild" settled with Google for $125 million instead of taking the claim to trial and declaring Google's practice illegal, and now each writer gets almost enough money to buy a handgun at Wal-Mart to blow their brains out.

Here's Robert Darnton writing about "Google and the Future of Books" for the "New York Review of Books":

"As an unintended consequence, Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly -- a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information. Google has no serious competitors. Microsoft dropped its major program to digitize books several months ago, and other enterprises like the Open Knowledge Commons (formerly the Open Content Alliance) and the Internet Archive are minute and ineffective in comparison with Google. Google alone has the wealth to digitize on a massive scale. And having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier; for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers. No new entrepreneurs will be able to digitize books within that fenced-off territory, even if they could afford it, because they would have to fight the copyright battles all over again. If the settlement is upheld by the court, only Google will be protected from copyright liability.

"Google's record suggests that it will not abuse its double-barreled fiscal-legal power. But what will happen if its current leaders sell the company or retire? The public will discover the answer from the prices that the future Google charges, especially the price of the institutional subscription licenses. The settlement leaves Google free to negotiate deals with each of its clients, although it announces two guiding principles: "(1) the realization of revenue at market rates for each Book and license on behalf of the Rightsholders and (2) the realization of broad access to the Books by the public, including institutions of higher education."

"Apart from Wikipedia, Google already controls the means of access to information online for most Americans, whether they want to find out about people, goods, places, or almost anything. In addition to the original "Big Google," we have Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Images, Google Labs, Google Finance, Google Arts, Google Food, Google Sports, Google Health, Google Checkout, Google Alerts, and many more Google enterprises on the way. Now Google Book Search promises to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed.

"Whether or not I have understood the settlement correctly, its terms are locked together so tightly that they cannot be pried apart. At this point, neither Google, nor the authors, nor the publishers, nor the district court is likely to modify the settlement substantially. Yet this is also a tipping point in the development of what we call the information society. If we get the balance wrong at this moment, private interests may outweigh the public good for the foreseeable future, and the Enlightenment dream may be as elusive as ever."

I'm not as paranoid as Darnton. What Google can steal from writers, hackers can steal from Google.

But how to make it pay? How to make it good? How to keep fiction writers fed?

Scanning text and making it available online does not sell fiction or add value to stories. I believe that the future "publishers" are coders, video game developers, and zine punks who know the value of layout, DIY, and clear, brilliant images.

I believe that in the hands of the right people -- people sufficiently lubricated with investment cash -- ebooks could be beautiful. So beautiful that people would pay to read them. So beautiful that people would pay to collect them, even though they could read them for free someplace else.

Let Google be today's modern, private mercantile library system. Soon they will be competing with the first nation-state (China? Sweden?) to steal everything from Google, nationalize it, and let the world drink it for free.

And then will come the monks to illuminate the electronic texts. Forever, gloriously, without end.

Posted by miracle on Tue, 03 Mar 2009 05:27:48 -0500 -- permanent link

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