Amazon to introduce new book-buying features as Google looks to digitize libraries

By John Ostrowski

Most people, by now, have at least heard of Google’s plan to digitize some books and make snippets available. Google’s Print Library Project aims to scan the entire collection of books from Harvard, Stanford and the University of Michigan, and make certain parts of the various books available online. This, of course, has people up in arms.

Several publishing companies have filed suit against Google to stop them from following through with their plan.

Google argues they are seeking mainly books that are out of print or have had their copyright expired, and will give authors the option of opting out of the online library by simply notifying Google (which, I’m sure, is a very simply process). They also plan to make everything available in accordance with the “fair use” provision in copyright law. However, it is yet to be seen how much of each book Google will actually make available to web surfers.

Of course, there is the possibility that Google could push their project into the realm of the unethical. It would be incredibly interesting to see what would happen if a major corporation became the Napster of books. For one, they’d be much harder to take down than Shawn Fanning’s brain child was. However, file-sharing has persisted as a black-market industry because of college students.

Would the Google Library enjoy the same popular support? My first instinct is to laugh off the idea that college students would lend popular support to the illegal consumption of books, of all things. However, if textbooks are available online, I have no doubt college students will forgo buying the hard copies and download what they need. This is because college students are stingier than Scrooge McDuck in everything except for booze and designer clothes that have been through the garbage disposal (and thus, are twice as expensive).

So, Amazon to the rescue. Unlike the Google founders, who vowed to “do no evil,” Amazon is worried only about the bottom line. And this Print Library Project is not the only way that Google is turning its back on its own proclamation. Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google who are known for being environmentally conscientious, have decided to purchase a 767 jet. So much for environmentally conscientious. Amazon plans to offer books online in two new ways.

One would be that they sell pages and chapters of books, as well as the entire book. This would allow people to only purchase the portion of a book that they needed. For instance, someone could buy their favorite portion of Dan Brown’s classic: “187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman” (which couldn’t have been worse than what you thought I was going to say, “The DaVinci Code”). Or, instead of professors buying lots of different textbooks, obtaining the rights to use certain portions, copying the necessary portions, repackaging it all and selling it all for a killing at Notes N’ Quotes, students could just buy the portions themselves.

Amazon already offers people the opportunity to browse through certain portions of books online for free. Their search inside feature enables users to search for text in books, then view the page the actual text appears on. If Google’s Print Library Project is anything similar to what Amazon offers, I can’t imagine too many people raising objections, especially if Google makes the books it scans available for purchase. However, I don’t expect Google to follow in the footsteps of anyone before it. Or, if they do, they will be much bigger footsteps.

The second new feature of Amazon would be the ability to view online copies of books one has already purchased. This will probably be available only on books purchased through Amazon, but that makes perfect sense. While Google may act the part of Janus, proclaiming it’s own benevolence through one mouth while simultaneously telling authors that they are about to be ripped off through the other, Amazon is simply here to do business. No pretentious claims, just a bottom line.

John Ostrowski is a junior in Communications. His column appears on Tuesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]