Friday, September 11, 2009

Google makes further concessions

Google must be positively squirming under the weight of criticism from all quarters, as they appear to have made yet another concession regarding the proposed settlement with authors and publishers, this time aimed at retailers who claim that this will create a monopoly, with Google the only company permitted to sell these works.

An article in todays Times states that yesterday Google offered an olive branch to such critics, by stating that it would allow competitors such as Amazon, and even High Street stores to resell their ditisised books. How this will work when such titles are downloaded and not sold in disc form, is unclear. In contrast, The Bookseller states more clearly that other retailers "will be be able to sell access to users on any internet-connected device they choose". This seems to suggest that these other retailers will in effect be agents for the Book Rights Registry.

Google made the concession at a hearing of the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee called to discuss objections to the proposed settlement. They claimed that this was an extension of an earlier initiative to allow publishers (which will of course include the self published who have formed their own companies) who have joined the Partner Program to market their in-print works through Google Books.

Google have scanned more than 10 million books already as part of their project to index what has been described as the world's forgotten literary heritage. They aim to create a "treasure trove" of information in the form of forgotten and out of print books which will be available to anyone with an Internet connection. This has attracted heavy criticism from all quarters, not least of all authors and publishers, which has not been confined to the US.

Despite the objections, David Drummond, Senior Vice President for corporate development and Chief Legal Officer, stressed that the settlement "mostly {either it does or ot doesn't} affects only a very small segment of the book world", which Google estimates at less than 3 percent of the commercial book market. "Even though commercial demand may be low, we still believe it's important to our culture and our literary history for people to be able to find and read these books, and for rightsholders to be able to market and sell them." On that at least, we can agree.

The proposed settlement will be discussed next month in New York.

What I have learnt from books

Over on the Book Club Forum, we are having an interesting discussion on what we have learnt from books - the answers have been extremely varied, concentrating as one would expect on fiction rather than non fiction.

When it comes to my own reading, most of my learning has come from the other source - non fiction books on a variety of different topics. After almost five years spent writing Genesis of Man, it was only after this book was published in 2006 that I returned to fiction reading after a long hiatus. I was surprised at how much I had missed this altogether different type of book, but also surprised at just how much you can learn from the experience. When I think about some of the books I have read in the past couple of years I have learnt an awful lot from them - insights into how male and female minds view the opposite gender, about different countries and their belief systems, how children often make a lot more sense than adults, and understand much more than we know, and how when you get right down to it, people are basically all the same. We all think that our pain and our experiences are unique and we are the only ones to feel and to think as we do, but actually we are not - the human condition is universal and fundamentally flawed, yet beautiful, no matter where we live or who we are - whether we are an Afghan male, a Japanese woman or a struggling British author.

When it comes to fiction books - they are a whole other kettle of fish. When I was writing Genesis of Man, I read an awful lot of other peoples books in a wide range of subjects - religion, history, alternative history, differing aspects of science, spirituality and so on - these books have taught me so many things it is difficult to know where to begin - one thing for example I learnt from David Icke and his books is that there is a very fine line between genius and insanity ! I also learnt about the importance of research and checking facts, something which the non fiction writer has to meticulous at, in fact something that all writers should be meticulous at, but not everyone is. I have spotted several howlers in certain books. I also learnt the importance of proper editing and proof reading, and discovered that contrary to popular belief it is often the commercially published books rather than the self published ones which have the most errors.

Of course my reading is not confined to the subjects mentioned above, as my library contains many different types of books - one type of book I have been reading lately are Icelandic sagas. These are an account of the lives of the early Icelandic settlers, have as such taught me a lot about the early history of the country and dispelled more than a few myths about Viking culture, which was not at all what most people think - no horned helmets in sight ! I have read travel books on all manner of different places, vegetarian cook books, books on evolution and genetics, first aid books, driving manuals, and of course books on publishing and publicity.

From these I have learnt the correct way to approach Editors, how to angle your pitch, how to how to write press releases and how to organise a book event, and also about copyright law and plagarisation. These are all things that the writer needs to know and understand.

Books then have taught me so much. They are not the only source of learning as this has come from many different areas - from adult education classes, television, newspapers, the Internet, and of course from friends, but when I stop to think about it, books probably have been the most important source. Somehow I doubt whether the effect would be the same from e-books as it has been from the printed word, yet research shows that children in California learn more quickly and take in more information from computer screens than they do from paper books - this though is a different generation, with a shorter attention span than the generation I grew up with.

One thing is clear - a world without books would be very much poorer.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Google agrees to European concessions

On the day that the European Commission opens discussions into the Google settlement and the eve of the deadline for filing objections, Google have confirmed that two non-US representatives are to sit on the governing board of the Books Registry that will administer the deal, with full participation on advisory committees.

Google have also confirmed that books available in Europe but out of print in the US will be treated for the purposes of the settlement as "commercially available". What this means in practical terms is that such books can only be displayed with the express permission of rights holders.

This appears to be an open acknowledgment that the settlement is not just about the rights of US authors, but does as I previously wrote, affect authors throughout the world, who are not subject to US law.

These landmark concessions have been made in an effort to placate authors and publishers outside the US who have become increasingly angry and vociferous in the last few weeks, with justifiable cause.

In addition to the two European Directors to be appointed to the board, a third European, Michael Healy is expected to serve as the Book Rights Registry’s first Executive Director.

The move has welcomed by the Publishers Association in the UK. Simon Juden, PA chief executive said: "This represents significant progress on two of the key issues the PA has raised with Google concerning the settlement. As so many of the affected works are non-US works, it is important that the BRR board reflect this."

He added: "Arguably a much more important point is that the definition of commercial availability needs to include UK-specific concerns when rights may not have been sold into the US. We are very pleased that Google has accepted our recommendations to work with UK meta-data on this."

A Google spokesperson said: "We listen carefully to all concerns of stakeholders around the globe and work hard to achieve the common goal of bringing back to life millions of lost books in a way that serves the interest of all." Let's hope that this time it actually means something and that these are not hollow, empty words.