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Wednesday, December 5, 2007 11:58 am
So the ALA, Microsoft, and France walk into a bar…
Posted by: Keir Graff

While the googolplexes of articles about Google Book Search often make me goggly-eyed, occasionally I read one in spite of myself. And in Jonathan V. Last’s “Google and Its Enemies” (The Weekly Standard), which is for the most part a reasonable explanation of the brouhaha surrounding Google Book Search, I was rewarded with this gem:

Google has, as they say, all the right enemies. Anytime the ALA, Microsoft, France, a trade guild, and a bunch of trial lawyers are lined up on one side of an argument, the other side is going to look extremely attractive.

I can deal with France and trade guilds–but trial lawyers? Microsoft?!

Fortunately, Last goes on to reject the temptation to choose his position based on the company he’d keep (the enemy of my enemy is now my friend?), but you can tell he was tempted.

From the summation:

In the Google worldview, content is individually valueless. No one page is more important than the next; the value lies in the page view. And a page view is a page view, regardless of whether the page in question has a picture of a cat, a single link to another site, or the full text of Freakonomics. When all you’re selling is ad space, the value shifts from the content to the viewer. And ultimately the content is valued at nothing. And here, finally, is the larger problem posed by Google’s actions. Books are not in any important sense user-centric. Whether or not a book has readers matters little. Books stand on their own, over time, as ideas and creations. In the world of books, it is the ideas and the authors that matter most, not the readers.

Do little-read books matter as much as much-read books? What about unread books? Discuss.



2 Responses to “So the ALA, Microsoft, and France walk into a bar…”
  1. Carol Kania Says:

    Sorry to answer your (very thought-provoking) question with more questions, but are books like insurance, in that it’s good to have them around even if they’re never used? Or, are they like stocks or real estate, essentially worthless until they’re put into circulation?

    From a selfish point of view, I have (I hope) many, many years on this planet to fill and I like knowing that there will always be books to read. On the other hand, as a taxpayer, I have to wonder why libraries should purchase materials that sit unused (well, I really don’t believe that. I am playing Devil’s Taxpayer here).

  2. Keir Says:

    I guess I ended with a question because I’m not so sure myself. As a BookPerson(TM), I definitely support the idea of supporting books that appeal to even a small readership…and many books that are now considered classics began their public existence with three-digit print runs. They can’t be discovered unless they exist in the first place.

    But I disagree with Last’s contention that “whether or not a book has readers matters little”. It does matter. A book that has world-changing ideas can’t change the world if the world can’t find it.

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