Dvorak: Google's Book Database Is a Great Idea

Google is grinding through various library collections for every book it can scan, without asking for permission.

I, for one, think that's great. I see that my last book, "Online! The Book," is in the collection, but this doesn't bother me, because I am apparently one of the few out there who has used Google Book Search. I found it anything but a threat to book sales or anything else to do with publishing.

The fuss over this book-search initiative is idiotic and naïve. It's not as if Google is printing books, or that any of these books are readable as complete editions on Google: They are not.

With many of the books, whole sections are removed and unavailable. You can thumb through a few hard-to-read pages, but that's it.

If you are a researcher, you can find some great quotes with this database. And finding it impossible to resist a vanity search, I found numerous references that I was unaware of.

This is a research tool and a public resource most of all, and it is no threat to writers or publishers.

It's too bad that this supposedly intellectual crowd doesn't understand this — it indicates how far down the societal pecking order they have fallen during the rise of the technological society.

The sad part is that this database will actually enlarge the fortunes of the publishing industry and writers alike by improving the accessibility of lesser-known works. Joe Schmo will get due credit for his early remarks about a topic rather than simply being ripped off by other writers.

Most popular books are derivative. The guy with the original idea is most likely living in obscurity.

Too bad writers can't see the benefits of universal access to their works. It's possible to increase sales if people actually know you exist.

Apparently writers would rather live and die in obscurity than have their books scanned and available for sampling. Nobody ever accused today's writers of being marketers. No Mark Twains in this crowd.

Google takes a lot of flak now for almost everything it does. Why? Do its products suck? Are its innocuous advertisements going to destroy Western civilization or even Madison Avenue?

Google has created a money machine that could probably operate with no employees for a few years until its servers finally crashed. I see no evidence that the company is trying to crush Yahoo!, AlltheWeb, or other competitors the way Microsoft did to Digital Research, Borland, and the rest. And Google isn't making Microsoft-like public threats and blowing smoke.

We have to remember that the guys who run Google are Burning Man goofballs who drive around in Toyota Prius cars despite being billionaires, and they like to party. They are not mean-spirited maniacs, psychopaths or executives from the semiconductor business.

It cracks me up that since day one of the Internet explosion, in the 1990s, everyone has been talking about digitizing the world's books.

Anyone in high tech remembers how this was a big deal. It was "information at your fingertips."

There was a collective lament about how long it would take to digitize the Library of Congress. Some said decades; others, 100 years.

But except for some photos and art, the process never really began. We were no closer to a digital collection of all the world's books than we are now. Or at least until Google finally started doing it on its own.

Now we're complaining! Unbelievable.

When Google began this, I surmised that it was just another way to boost ad revenues with more page views. But now I'm guessing that if there is any mercantile angle, it's to sell the books themselves.

And you can be sure that book sales would increase with this mechanism in place, a reality ignored by the protesting writers and publishers. They bank on the superstition that this will somehow hurt sales. "It's stealing!" Shades of the RIAA.

In fact, I suspect that this won't even be a money-maker for Google; it's probably a loss leader. Meanwhile, Google is creating a new public resource that should be given a Nobel Peace Prize. It could become an international treasure.

Instead, we hear complaints. "Burn the witch."

I suppose that some of this stems from the general distrust of public companies — an indictment of current business ethics. But Google has shown no real signs of being untrustworthy.

How about this for an idea: When the company does show signs of being up to no good, then go after it. For now, leave Google alone.

Discuss this article in the forums.

Go off-topic with John C. Dvorak here.

Copyright © 2006 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Ziff Davis Media Inc. is prohibited.