I have been doing Understanding Media by Understanding Google course on Coursera and as part of first peer graded assignment we have to write about “Is Google’s intention to digitize all the world’s books a good thing or a bad thing, and for whom? “. Here is my take on it :-
Imagine if every book in the world is digitized then we can:-
- search books as we search publicly accessible web pages today without paying any fee. This will enable us to access books from anywhere with different devices, choose best possible book etc.
- give access of same knowledge base to everyone irrespective to country, income level.
- increase the visibility and life span of books by linking/tagging them and creating conversation around them.
- collaborate more easily, which can put seed for new ideas.
- get access to out of print books.
As mentioned by Jeff Jarvis in “The Google Times”, that we need to kill books to save them and above points support it. Other than the authors of out of print books who want their work to reach more people, a general user like me/us would get benefited by digitization of books from Google.
But wait !!! everything comes at a cost. Google is a publicly traded company and it has to make profit to keep its investors happy. As per Siva Vaidhyanathan lecture, “Google, Digitization, and the Future of Books” and from some his other work :-
- neither Google nor the publishers guarantee to protect user privacy when using the Google Books site.
- we would loose the personal touch which we get librarians.
- digitization of books can lead to privatization of libraries.
- the quality of the scanning is not good enough.
- with digitization of books Google is trying to make its search better.
By making its search better Google is effectively increasing revenue. Also there is no guarantee that based on user private data, Google would not show sub-optimal results with search; to benefit its Ad sponsors. This is bad for the user. After digitization of a book Google can sell it online to make money from someone else’s work, which is bad for the original author.