Tech support for books
So you are an experienced reader of scrolls and someone hands you a book. How do you figure it out? That’s the premise of this Norwegian TV skit (subtitles provided). Funny.

Watching that reminded me of a recent New Yorker article about the Google Book Search project.

$800 million to scan and store all the world’s books
I was never much for library research, stacks of notecards, outlines. I love libraries and until recently carted around a large collection of books in addition to about a thousand CDs and some 600 DVDs. Still have about 25 LPs as well, things that I intend to digitize one of these days, like a few disks of the Tiffany transcriptions of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys (their best work IMHO) and Chaucer readings in the original middle English.

Finally started getting rid of the books though: just too heavy and bulky. I also realized that I was hanging on to them for largely sentimental reasons: bright college years and such. It’s been a few years since I could pass for a grad student, even in my own memory. So I love the Google Books Project goal to digitize all the world’s books.

Publishers and some authors don’t like it
It is the same problem the record companies are having, only more important to all of us. I mean, who really cares if you can’t get the 13th Floor Elevators first album any more?

Yet so much of the world’s knowledge is locked up in libraries, printed in books that had a total press run of a few thousand, tops. It would be so great to be able to research a topic in-depth from my kitchen table.

So why do we need publishers now anyway?
The cost of on-line publication is practically zero. Preparing the book for publication is still a cost, yet much less than printed books require. I can only think of two reasons why we might still need publishers: as a brand and editorial service, such as Poisoned Pen Press that publishes consistently high quality mysteries and as a marketing service. No printers, no shipping, automated shopping – what else is there? Book tours?

Of course, the opportunities for censorship are huge
Google got bent out of shape when a reporter published Eric Schmidt’s home address using Google search tools and banned that publisher from Google events. So I hope that Google will not be the only way to search the scanned books. Other than that, sounds like a big win to me.

The StorageMojo take
Cheap, persistent storage and broadband can bring the equivalent of the world’s finest libraries to every home and school. That is a win for us all. Especially my aching back.

Books won’t go away. High quality reproduction of art and photographs will outpace what display technology can do for quite some time to come. Ultimately though, books are a technology, just like 78 rpm records, and they are in the process of being superceded by online digital publishing. The industry needs to wake up and rethink their value proposition in a world of cheap replication and storage.

Comments welcome: why will you keep your books? Do you expect your children to? Moderation turned on because spammers use cheap publishing too.