The Pennsylvania State University

Making Models

Tony Sanfilippo,
Penn State University Press

As I look at the issues involved in the Google Print for Libraries controversy, oddly I think of three guys I knew in Junior High School. They made plastic model cars. All kinds, from Big Daddy Roth's Rat Fink in a dune buggy, to The Wolfman on a flaming chopper, to a convertible Chevy coup with mag wheels and 2’ overhead cams. The beauty and craft of these things were extraordinary. Individually, these guys were considered dorks, but their plastic models were admired by everyone.

They did it by working together and specializing. One guy started every project. He carefully cut each piece off the armature, trimmed away the flashing, and lightly sanded areas that would need paint or glue. The next guy painted each piece—some details with a hair thin brush, and never a drip or smudge. He then sealed the finish with a clear lacquer. The last guy assembled the pieces, invisibly gluing, applying decals, insuring that every piece fit and worked properly, steering wheels turned wheels and doors, trunks, and hoods opened and closed.

The reason I suppose I think of these guys in relation to the Google issue is because of their interdependency. None of these guys made a very good car on his own. It was when the guys worked together as a team that they made something wonderful. With Google Print for Libraries, the three guys who need to work together are Google, the libraries, and the university presses. Each brings assets to the table, but rather than working together, they seem distracted by insisting the other guys respect their authority. What if they did this instead...

Google has technological assets—the ability to scan, read, index, convert, store, and distribute information. What Google doesn’t always have is the right to the information they covet. Libraries share some of the same technological assets, but they bring something more to the table. They have, well, libraries and librarians, collections and people specialized in providing their local communities the information and resources they need. As with Google, however, libraries don’t typically own the rights to permit Google to do what it wants to do.

And then we have the university presses. I focus on the university presses because, well, we are one and because of the similar nature of the primary objectives of the libraries and the presses, the dissemination of scholarship. University presses have a great interest in this because the libraries involved hold most of what the university presses have published since their inception. The university presses sure wish they had just a fraction of Google's or the libraries' resources, but all they have are the rights. Of course, those are the rights to much of what both Google and the libraries want to offer their users. Well, what can these three guys offer each other? How can they co-operate?

When I first heard Google would allow publishers to opt out of the Google Print for Libraries, my first thought was to exclude all of our content, anything we've ever published, but what if we didn't? If Google is scanning books published by our press to index and add to its search results, why couldn't Google give a copy to me and to the university library it scanned it from? A 300 DPI file to the press and a 72 DPI file to the library. Better yet, why couldn't Google host the library’s files and only allow unrestricted access to the IP range that library serves? The press would then allow the library to use that content but only for that university community. But if Google gave me a copy of the file, I could bring that book back into print through POD. And Google could rank it among the results of its index, with those glorious "buy the book" links.

What does Google get? It gets our permission to scan, store, index and display page views (under Google Print for Publishers restrictions) of our content, and then sell ads next to that content. What do the libraries get? They get files or access to files (albeit low-res files) of their holdings with permission to give their communities expanded and legal use of our content for free. What do I get? I get to bring back into print our old content, and I get new venues to offer all of our content.

The recently announced revision of the Google Print for Libraries program, while imperfect, seems to offer an opportunity to move in this direction. By offering publishers a way to exclude their content from this project, they may need now to counter-offer an incentive to keep content in the program. On one hand, Google should be congratulated for putting the issue of orphaned works in the spotlight; on the other hand, Google's default approach makes it necessary for publishers to “opt out” all of their content by November or seemingly lose their control of it. Both Google and the libraries are in a better position to inform me which of our books are in their collections. Why are they asking me to submit to them a list of everything we've ever published instead? But Google should offer publishers something more if they hope to have their participation. A copy of our files would be one possible incentive. Selling our content for us might be another. There has been some speculation in the industry that Google may be positioning itself to sell some of the content it is indexing. If the DRM made sense, and if our share of the revenues made sense, I think I would welcome that. But Google and the libraries need to obtain permission and to act fairly. They need to cooperate with the publishers as new technologies offer new models to try. Perhaps it's the glue and paint fumes, but this seems like a model worth at least trying to construct.

Tony Sanfilippo, marketing and sales director, Penn State Press

A version of this essay was published in Publishers Weekly, September 26, 2005

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