A roof over our heads

Ever since Kevin Kelly’s article "Scan that Book" was published, bloggers and regular media have been chewing over the topic with varying degrees of aggressiveness and knowledge. (They’d been doing so extensively before the article was published too, of course.)

The Publishing Contrarian featured an insightful post on the KK affair. I highlighted her key conclusion in a recent post, but see today that a lot of heat and debate has been going on in her comments, well worth reading. I’ve just added my twopennorth, which I reproduce here (slightly edited for context), because I love this subject!

>>>This topic (book scanning and the future of publishing) gets lots of people ("stakeholders") het up for different reasons. Scanning books and putting content online does not necessarily mean people will be able to read it all for free — most publishers put their full content online, but access is controlled in a fine-tuned way — some content is free, some isn’t. This is the case for many archives, as we’ve all found when trying to click through from online searche returns. (I am not making any predictions about access via Google book search, merely pointing out what is possible — and of course, Google has said plainly that it will respect copyright, whatever that might mean.)

What may well happen to book publishing is what has happened/is happening to the scientific journal part of the publishing industry, and what Amazon is developing fast via its search partnering and its own book scanning, never mind what Google is up to. That is, reader-ranking and "citation tracking". Google Scholar will show you the kind of thing — the archived scholarly content is user-ranked, and you see that in your search return. What comes up to the top of your search is the article on the topic that has been most cited by other people. (And if that article is behind a publisher’s firewall, it stays there when you click on the Google Scholar link.)

On the "scan this book" model, best-sellers could become best-sellers because people like reading them…get a book returned in your online search that has a high ranking/citation (high number of approval ratings), decide you want to try it, and order it (POD from the author or small publisher, or conventionally from the traditional publisher).

So could the whole thing mean more power to the author and the small independent publisher, and less power to the conglomorates and marketeers? Will the conventional publishers go out of business? I don’t know, of course, Lynne, GOB and many others have posted on this topic from a much more knowledgeable position than me. Authors will continue to develop innovative forms of personalised marketing such as we see from some of our fellow-bloggers. Booksellers, as Glenn Reynolds (Army of Davids), Lynne, Frank Wilson and others have said, need to speed up their self-reinvention as wi-fi-ed coffee houses in which people like to spend their time running their one-person businesses, writing their books or whatever. I would love to see bookshops getting together with the beleaguered libraries to provide a combined book buying/lending service as part of a multi-environment for relaxation, education, reference, writing, web surfing — all under one roof of books, self-employed workers and knowledge-seekers. <<<