back to article Google settles epic US book-scanning battle with 5 publishers

Google has settled a seven-year-long dispute with publishers in the United States, bringing to an end a copyright infringement lawsuit first filed against the company in October 2005. Under the deal, the rights of the copyright-holders have been acknowledged by the search and ad giant. Five members of the Association of …

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WTF?

This is the worrying bit:

"Financial terms of the agreements with Penguin Group USA, McGraw-Hill, Pearson Education, Simon & Schuster and John Wiley & Sons were kept secret"

Why ? And will the settlement trickle down to the authors ?

Thought not.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: This is the worrying bit:

I'll agree it's worrying but at the risk of playing devil's advocate here; how many companies do you know of that publish the financial specifics of their licensing deals?

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FAIL

Re: This is the worrying bit:

Duh. Financial terms will have been maintained non-disclosed because it is frankly none of anyone else's business. Many 'out of court' settlements are done with the same condition - it may not suit our prying eyes, but so what?

In many cases the authors will have been paid a flat fee for their works; where authors have royalties arrangements with the publisher then they (the publishers) are legally bound to pay accordingly to distribution.

This is not (just) about damages for potentially lost sales - each of these publishers have invested 5 years trying to get the issue addressed - whatever sum is paid, it almost certainly won't cover the cost expended in resources.

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Re: This is the worrying bit:

I'll agree it's worrying but at the risk of playing devil's advocate here; how many companies do you know of that publish the financial specifics of their licensing deals?

Devil's advocate is quite right. How many companies do you know of that publish the financial specifics of their licensing deals -- vs -- how many should?

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> "Those deciding not to remove their works will have the option to receive a digital copy for their use."

Of their own book? Or the entire library?

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FAIL

the rights of the copyright-holders have been acknowledged ...

After FIVE years!!

Do No Evil. Balls!!

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Re: the rights of the copyright-holders have been acknowledged ...

Better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Books will have a wider audience and a longer life electronically and if Google had asked permission off every author and publishing company, it would never happen. Ever. Not in a million years.

This way the project has happened, law suits settled and precidences set. Yes some rights got trampled on the way but any other way nothing would have happened.

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"Under the deal, the rights of the copyright-holders have been acknowledged by the search and ad giant."

"It shows that digital services can provide innovative means to discover content while still respecting the rights of copyright-holders."

Hmmmm.

Maybe. Provided the 'copyright holders' are one of these five big name publishers. And yes, I fully recognise those publishers hold rights to a large number of works, and that those rights deserve as much respect as any others.

But there's the rub. Those 'any others'. As in:

"The company added that the "settlement does not affect Google’s current litigation with the Authors Guild or otherwise address the underlying questions in that suit.""

Ad there are, believe it or not, authors who aren;t members of the authors Guild. Or any other such professional association. Whether because they choose not to be, or because the membership requirements involve qualifications they cannot satisfy (including, but not necessarily limited to, things like minimum advance sizes and white lists of 'approved' publishers).

So not all copyright owners, right? Only, maybe, those with big, expensive lawyers, and the pockets to pay for them and the patience to keep being a PITA.

Of course, they could just come out with a statement along the lines of:

"We promise not to touch anything for which we can't absolutely confirm permission from the absolutely confirmed copyright owner, or for which we can absolutely demonstrate that the work is absolutely definitely in the Public Domain and we won't ever, ever, ever mention the term 'Orphan Works' ever, ever, ever again".

But maybe I won't hold my breath for it to happen.

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Anonymous Coward

Why the hell did they settle?

An RIAA style fine per infringement would have ended up with the publishing industry OWNING Google. All they get now is chump change.

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Anonymous Coward

Riddle Me This Batman

Why the fuck does a digital copy of a book cost more that the paper edition ?

Stick it to em Google !

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Riddle Me This Batman

Actual printing costs for books are quite low. Most of the money you pay for a book goes towards paying the writer, the publisher*, the cover designers, etc. Then there are any costs the retailer tacks on. Eliminating printing costs doesn't knock that much off the price. Ebooks are also subject to VAT that traditional books are not which drives their prices back up.

*Yes, they deserve paying. Who do you think edits, advertises and does all the admin for the entire project?

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Re: Riddle Me This Batman

"Ebooks are also subject to VAT that traditional books are not which drives their prices back up."

In the UK. In Europe. Not in the States. Not in Canada. Not in... well. There's a list :-).

Here's a cost _not_ associated with e-books. The cost of pulping the books that were printed (print runs tend to be standard sizes) - but never sold (sales, sadly, do not tend to come in standard sizes (blushes)).

The harder part tends not to be finding the costs that e-books and print books commonly generate for the publisher - those should tend the cover cost to equal footing. The hard part - for me at least - is working out costs e-books generate that print books do not.

Er - apart from the 'we must protect our old business model' surcharge, that is :-P. But no business would _ever_ do that, right? :-PP

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Happy

Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

The cost of maintaining a web site. You think Amazon runs itself?

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Re: Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

With respect - the Amazon web site is indeed used to sell both e-books and paper books (and other things - but in this context I'll stick with books :-) ). So would that not make it a neutral element in a discussion about cost differences between e and paper? Or did I misunderstand your point? I wouldn't be surprised if I did - after all, I'm an Idiot :-)

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Re: Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

True, website costs are irrelevant - the hosting cost is negligible once split over all the titles covered.

Equally, so are the printing costs - it comes down to around 10% of the cover price from memory.

If you actually look closely though, most of the time Digital RRP and physical RRP are the same amount.

What actually gets charged can be slightly different due to taxes, esp VAT in the UK which makes digital books up to 20% more expensive.

One reason is that you don't get a discount as a wholesaler for buying electronic copies in bulk like you do with paper books, so retailers have less headroom to work with. Another is you don't get remainders or a second hand market providing a check on the retail price.

Also stores use particular titles as loss leaders to get customers in the store. You are far better comparing the price of back catalogue works that were released in both formats, so around 2-3 years old.

There are unlikely to be any major discounts in place, and as expected, the prices are usually the same.

For works that have been in print for a long time but only recently released as digital, the price is as expected significantly higher - the publisher has had to completely redo the title, often starting from a scanned physical copy rather than a master. This means you get most of the costs all over again less printing and distribution, which as said previously are not much anyway.

Finally people are usually comparing professionally released books with the free downloaded scanned versions found on the web, or the penny dreadful self published dross at the bottom of the scale. A quick comparison between a major release from a proper publisher and the above will soon show up the benefits that going through the process has made, with most significant errors removed and the quality much better matching expectations. I'm willing to pay more for that.

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Re: Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

Lord (heh - or Lady :-) ) Mayhem

I'm biting my tongue and chaining myself to the wall to avoid replying to part of this - not because I necessarily disagree with any part of it, but because I'd be quite rightly accused of derailing the original point. Because I think it likely we copuld have quite a spirited (and, from your reasoned response and tone, positive and friendly) discussion about the various forms of publishing available these days, and their merits and disadvantages, and the positive and negative qualities of what may be regarded as their product.

But - much as I'm sure the loss is mine - I won't. I will say, for the record, I agree with much of what you say here :-).

To return to what I perceive as the original point - to me, Google want to claim they're paying heed to the interests and rights of 'copyright holders'. In fact, they want, to my perception, to be _seen_ as paying that heed - but in practice only so far as they may suffer litigation or the costs resulting from litigation. They fully intend, as far as I can tell, to carry on regardless of the views or concerns of interested parties who cannot afford the legal recourse big publishers or even author professional associations can afford.

Which has the caveat that, to my mind, they will claim any settlement with or approval from such specific groups exonerates them from any negative views elsewhere and allows them to proceed.

To make what is no doubt already a fairly obvious declaration of interest - I am a copyright holder. I am a published author. I am a published author whose books are (currently) only available as e-publications. Are they self published? No. Are they published through reputable electronic publishers? Yes. Do those publishers employ professional Content and Line Editors, Cover Artists? Absolutely.

Can I join the author's Guild?

Er - nope :-). I'd post their membership conditions here, but they're available for anyone to read. As are those of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America - another genuinely worthy and valuable association I, um, cannot join :-(.

If Google come to agreement with paper publishers, if they come to agreement with the Authors Guild, would my interests be represented? My rights as a copyrigh holder sustained? Truly, I have no idea. I know I wouldn't have had any voice in the agreement. I know among copyright holders there would be some few, a perhaps unhappy few, a band of brothers, yes, and sisters - a few who would not, maybe, have been remembered.

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Re: Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

Now that is an interesting line of questioning.

I completely agree by the way with your caveat - I see much of Google's behaviour as a land grab to be first on scene doing whatever and damn the consequences. Once they have the technology, they can then figure out a way to monetise it and negotiate proper rights from a position of strength.

Their Orphaned Works argument was a particularly odious idea - while many works are very deserving of being republished, and this is something that the major publishers have repeatedly failed to do, the rights that the holders have were hard won over a very long time and should not be swept aside in favour of better access.

The problem is Google does have a point. The underlying idea behind their Digital Library is a good one - they just went about it completely the wrong way. And while I am nervous about any kind of large business acting as a gatekeeper for public goods, at least Google is better than Amazon. For now.

I suspect part of the issue is that to establish a true Digital Print Library as the original idea offered will require a drastic rethink about how authors rights are handled and few people outside the usual suspects like Doctorow are willing to do that. It is a massive can of worms that I suspect will painfully be worked out over the next decade or two. What happens to the publishers, and how an author can actually put food on their table while they write are among the least of the issues.

As for your comments on the Author's Guild & SFWA, I knew the Author's Guild was picky, but I always thought SFWA was fairly liberal in who they accepted, so long as you had a certain minimum level of sales. Although I do notice the requirements difference between 1k physical books published and 1k ebooks *sold*.

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Re: Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

Lord (or Lady) Mayhem

Then maybe it's time I went back and checked the SFWA membership requirements. The last response I had from them said only works with a minimum advance from their white list of publishers were classed as 'qualifying works' and that there were no plans (at that time) to expand to e-published works (which do not generally have advances as part of the contract). I'd look now, but the my office browser keeps saying www.sfwa.org is an unknown MIME file type :-P.

I would agree (and I'm running the risk of further derailing the initial intent of this thread) that the concept as _expressed_ by Google wasn't necessarily bad. But the intent I perceived (and I don't think I'm alone, but then I'm married, so I'm often told I just don't think :-P) was just a land grab. And, as is often the case these days, it was established as something authors were opted into by default, with no easy way out once in. And even if there were said way out, the Net being what it is, works opted in would have been widely replicated prior to any successful departure, yes?

I'll have to check the current SFWA membership requirements once I get home. Not, sadly, that my current sales would make it any matter of personal relevance :-P. More just to see if they've caught up with the RWA yet :-).

Heh. given the propensity (and not in any way an unjustified one) for Reg readers to get irate at non-IT discussions, if you'd like to continue the discussion in some other manner, let me know. Or we can always carry on here and see if the surrounding temperature rises :-).

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Re: Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

Lord (or Lady) Mayhem

Sadly, SFWA membership requirements appear unchaged:

http://www.sfwa.org/join-us/sfwa-membership-requirements/#novel

"1.Three Paid Sales of prose fiction (such as short stories) to Qualifying Professional Markets, with each paid at the rate of 5¢/word or higher (3¢/word before 1/1/2004), for a cumulative total of $250, minimum $50 apiece; or

2.One Paid Sale of a prose fiction book to a Qualifying Professional Market, for which the author has been paid $2000 or more; or

3.One professionally produced full length dramatic script, with credits acceptable to the Membership Committee."

So an advance, and white lists of 'approved publishers'. Which, to retain connection with the original issue, leaves a number of copyright holders out in the cold when such organisations, as valuable and important as they are, come to their agreements with Google.

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Re: Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

Ahh, I can see where you are coming from.

I hadn't read that as a particularly onerous burden to cross for a professional writer or one who wants to be. The list of approved publishers was fairly broad, and includes accredited international publishers in case your work sold better overseas.

I understood their policy was less to ensure that the right publishers get paid as to help make sure people don't go to the wrong ones, especially those vanity presses and scams that require the author to pay up front for their work to be published.

I wasn't aware that e-publishing was not considered acceptable, but you're quite right - a lot of the major e-publishers are specifically deemed not valid. Interesting.

I wonder if the more reputable e-publishers need to consider forming their own trade body, although I'm not sure there are enough good ones worldwide to justify it yet. Certainly that is indeed a gap in the market that needs to be picked up in the next few years.

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Re: Here's a cost _not_ asssociated with books

Lord (or Lady) Mayhem

Plus the fact that, in general, e-publishers don't pay advances - automatically excluding them and the authors they publish. For instance, in the month of March 2010, Joe Konrath made over $4,200. Over 5850 copies sold in one month. But - as he commented in a blog post - it was a good job he didn't want to renew his lapsed SFWA membership. Because not one of those sales was through a publisher on the white list, because they weren't the subject of advances, because they were self published - he wouldn't have qualified.

And no. I'm not Joe Konrath, and his sales aren't mine :-). But the Romance Writers of America (sadly I don't write in that genre) has taken steps to 'include' e-authors. The SFWA hasn't.

Probably the closest to an 'e-organisation' is the Elecotronic Publishing Coalition (www.epicorg.com) - but, like it or not, it doesn't have the status of the older and better known groups.

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Re: Riddle Me This Batman

"Ebooks are also subject to VAT that traditional books are not which drives their prices back up."

Ebooks have no printing costs, no shipping costs, almost no staff costs yet are only marginally cheaper than a paper copy shipped around the world.

If I buy a second hand copy of a book it will be cheaper than the Ebook.

Now I'd assume the author earns just as much for an Ebook as a paper book and I can't see the author earning more than $1 a copy, the publishing companies must be spending a fortune on hosting or just ripping everyone off.

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Happy

If I want a digital copy of Salvadori and Levy's text I can go to eBay or Amazon and hope to find it used. However what if I didn't already know about Structural Design in Architecture?

If the Publishers are smart they'll find a way to get Google to convert it to electronic form so they can sell it for a better price. No reason to thumb through germ infested books when I want to search for stress in concrete shell.

I get to refresh my knowledge they get to sell me a reference if I need to refer to it again.

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Most of the money you pay for a book goes towards paying the writer...

Maybe for some of the bigger names, but me thinks most of it goes to the fat cats

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Re: Most of the money you pay for a book goes towards paying the writer...

Heh. Indeed so, sir.

This page may be interesting to some:

http://www.brandewyne.com/writingtips/authorspaid.html

Taken from that page:

"Generally speaking, the standard royalty rates for paperback books vary from a low of 1% to a high of 10%, with the average royalty rate falling at 6%. So if an author's paperback book has a cover price of $6.50, then at a 6% royalty rate, the author will earn only a $.39 royalty on every copy sold."

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