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Amazon's Book Search Hits a Snag 299

Posted by timothy
from the oopsie dept.
The Importance of writes "Yesterday, Slashdot readers discussed Amazon's brand new, technically impressive and highly useful book search feature that lets users search the full text of over 120,000 books. Today, the Authors Guild is saying that the publishers don't have the right to let Amazon do this. Uh oh."
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Amazon's Book Search Hits a Snag

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  • odd way to read (Score:5, Insightful)

    by potpie (706881) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @06:49PM (#7310421) Journal
    I understand the technical reasons for this... but there is no practical reason, since it would probably be very hard to read a book this way.
    • Re:odd way to read (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ChesireKat (601712) <[ten.yrdraziwbew] [ta] [tak]> on Saturday October 25, 2003 @06:57PM (#7310471) Journal
      True But this DOES mean that a full text version of the book is Available on the database somewhere. Which means if one person figures out how to get it, everyone has the book for free (thanks to kazaa and sharing.)
      Then again, many other sites offer ebooks for a price... which means they also must have full text versions available. So, i Suppose the publishers are just protecting themselves against possible danger.

      oh, and being pains in the asses :) C'mon! Its what they do best!
      • Re:odd way to read (Score:3, Insightful)

        by tkrotchko (124118) *
        " Which means if one person figures out how to get it, everyone has the book for free (thanks to kazaa and sharing.)"

        Don't tell anybody, but I figured out an easier way...

        Go to the library, borrow the book and read it...

        WITHOUT PAYING FOR IT!

        I heard that the library will do this for an unlimited number of people too. I wonder how much authors lose because of this "income stealer".

        If people want to read stuff, they should pay. None of this "reading for free" nonsense that a lot of thieving kids think
        • >Go to the library, borrow the book and read it...

          Your analogy would only make sense if I could demand the librarian make me a digital DRM-free copy of the book.

          The problem here is fairly obvious, Amazon is expecting thousands of authors to "trust us with security," and these authors politely say no and you fall back on a non-sequitar library argument?

          Sorry, but bought dead-tree books on rental is not the same thing as a digital copy I can mass-send/share globally.

          Frankly, considering what passes off
      • Re:odd way to read (Score:3, Interesting)

        by NanoGator (522640)
        "Which means if one person figures out how to get it, everyone has the book for free (thanks to kazaa and sharing.)"

        I see the reasoning here, but they should think about how many people aren't buying books because they don't know which book has the information they want. I can think of a few times I've gone to the book store to buy a book with hopes of solving a particular problem. I had to go there, take the book off the shelf, flip a few pages, and even risk reading the solution and ending my demand f
    • Re:odd way to read (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Spy Hunter (317220) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:19PM (#7310599) Journal
      ...until some warez group releases a tool that scrapes Amazon's site for book pages automatically for you. Or uses such a tool to extract a recent bestseller from Amazon and releases it in a .rar file on some bittorrent site. Then it becomes much easier to read an entire book through this service. It would be pretty much just like reading a regular ebook.

      The authors are right on this. A service that allows Internet access to a scanned image of an arbitrary page of any book is just begging to be misused. The service doesn't require images of the actual pages to be served. Removing this feature would allow the search to still be useful but would remove the possibility of people downloading the entire book for free.

    • Re:odd way to read (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cipster (623378)
      Well the problem is there are many books I would just like to read a chapter of without wanting the whole thing.
      For example I have Harrison's textbook of Internal Medicine. I paid well over $100 for it and I use it maybe every few weeks to look up a differential diagnosis or some reference values. I rarely read more than 2 pages at a time.
      If I could find it on-line and look the stuff up you bet I wouldn't have spent the cash for it.
  • misunderstanding (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tumbleweed (3706) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @06:50PM (#7310423)
    Publishers don't have to _let_ Amazon do this. Amazon can do this without anybody's permission - they're not making content available to the public, merely letting the public find the right product to then buy. From my understanding, no content is being sold, or made available, outside of book form. Author should be shouting for friggin' JOY at this. Ugh.
    • Re:misunderstanding (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jonathan (5011)
      If you read the article, they bring up the examples of travel books or cookbooks. If I can just search to get info on a city I'm going to or a certain pie I want to bake, why buy the whole book?
      • Why on earth would you go to Amazon for that info instead of Google, though?

        -- Dr. Eldarion --
        • If Google doesn't HAVE that info indexed (and Amazon doesn't allow search engines to index that info), then you don't have much choice.
        • If it's a recipe from a cookbook, it would make sense that you'd want it directly from the book, rather than finding something potentially similar from some other source.
        • Why on earth would you go to Amazon for that info instead of Google, though?

          Well, there are beginning to be good freely available cookbooks and travel books on the web, but right now, most of the info of that type is somehow attached to a company or local government travel office, which means it probably isn't very objective. Sure, the city of Muncie, IN will try to convince you that it's a travel Mecca, but a real travel book would tell you not to bother going.
      • It depends on how much info of the 'hit' that Amazon displays. It's going to be a balance between showing 'just enough' for the searcher to verify that's the right book, but not so much that valuable content is being given away. If it's handled correctly, this can be a huge boon to everyone, authors included. If authors want to bitch about something, they should be bugging their publishers to make their back catalogs available in electronic, print-on-demand format, so that when someone *does* want to buy th
    • Content (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Angram (517383)
      "Amazon can do this without anybody's permission - they're not making content available to the public..."
      Exactly what do you call the text from a book? If the pages/text aren't its content, then I guess it doesn't have any. So much for literature.

      "...merely letting the public find the right product to then buy"
      Consider the ramifications of your statement: I should be able to make tracks from a CD available for free, so that others can determine whether they want to buy it. Whether you think that's the wa
      • Actually Walmart currently does make sections of CDs available so that you can determine whether you want to buy the product. As far as "literature" and "content"...you said it first, not me.
        • Many major music stores make whole CDs available in-store, but I think the record companies authorize those kinds of things.
      • My understanding is they're not making the content 'available', only 'searchable'. You type in the text you're looking for, it shows you what books they have (scanned & OCR'd) that match the hits. How much OF that matching text they display I dunno - my understanding is they're NOT showing the entire text of the books. Is this incorrect?
        • Re:Content (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Angram (517383) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:13PM (#7310567)
          They show +/- 2 pages from the one the searched phase is on (total of 5 pages). However, a cake recipe isn't going to be more than that (in fact, many are only a half-page in big cookbooks). Ditto for most reference materials, which unlike novels don't depend on a storyline, but rather looking up small chunks of info.
          • Re:Content (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Tumbleweed (3706)
            Ah, yeah, that's way too much content to be displaying, then. If they merely cut back the amount of text displayed to, say, a paragraph or less, then I think everything would be hunky-dory.

            Or, they could change the amount of text displayed based on the type of content. Less for a cookbook or reference book, and more for a novel. This is the first time anyone's done this, so hopefully a little finetuning will be forthcoming. Demonizing Amazon.com has historically had NO effect on their behaviour, so hopefu
        • Re:Content (Score:4, Interesting)

          by DoctorPhish (626559) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:16PM (#7310584) Homepage
          They show the page the hit was on, and 2 pages on either side of it. No more than 20% of a book can be viewed in a month. The Guild is arguing that for cookbooks and travel books, the information you are searching for is concentrated enough that no one would ever have to purchase those books. Their other example is college students banding together to print out entire volumes. Valid concerns, I'd say.
        • RTFA (or TRY the Amazon search feature) and you will see that they DO let you see full pages from the books.
    • This is not about copyright.

      If you read the article, you'll see that this is about contracts with publishers that state that the books in question cannot be placed in an electronic database. Since it is likely that Amazon got this database from the publishers, this is the problem.

      Amazon could legally scan all the books in themselves and make the same search available under fair use. The issue here is whether the authors' contracts with the publishers give those publishers the right to distribute their

      • I'm not sure Amazon could make the scanned content searchable under fair use. Fair use only applies to a small portion of a publication. But searching for a word anywhere in the document basically means the whole publication is used for that service, even if in the end only half a page is displayed. So it might not be fair use to make search available to the public. Now if they allowed you to search for any word in the first paragraph of each of their novels only, that would definitely be fair use.
    • Re:misunderstanding (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AJWM (19027)
      From my understanding, no content is being sold, or made available, outside of book form.

      Then your understanding is incorrect. Amazon makes available the page where the search hit is found, plus the previous and subsequent two pages each, for a total of five pages per hit. In many cases (examples are given as cookbooks and travel books) this may be all the viewer cares about.

      In other cases, it doesn't take much ingenuity to figure a way to get the whole book. (The Guild did 100-page sections, as pro
    • > no content is being sold, or made available, outside of book form.

      Gosh, look at it first. You can indeed browse books' pages just as if you had it on your lap and not just your laptop.

      Amazon says there's a limit to the number of pages you can do this with, but they give no details and I haven't found a limit yet.

      Steven
  • by ChesireKat (601712)
    How can Amazon not have the right to do this? I mean, EBSCOhost has the right to let you search MILLIONS of articles, books, and etc. What makes them any different than Aamazon?
  • by wrinkledshirt (228541) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @06:52PM (#7310438) Homepage
    You want to search a book's text? That means the developers and the server would need to have the digital text of the book to parse for the engine.

    That's one security fuckup away from free ebooks for everybody.
    • That's one security fuckup away from free ebooks for everybody.

      No, it's just a list of the words in the book. They're not going to have all of the thousands of instances of "a" and "the" in each book indexed - they'll index a word once per book.

      Nobody said the words were in order of appearance, either.
    • As opposed to right now when it is one security fuckup away from free physical books for everybody.
  • Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrEldarion (114072) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @06:54PM (#7310448)
    When I first read this, I thought, why on earth wouldn't they want this? Wouldn't it help sales?

    After reading the article, it seems they have a point. Novels wouldn't really be hurt by it (and may actually be helped), but think about reference books and other things. All one would have to do is search for what they're looking for, then pull it right out of the result they're given. Although why they would go to Amazon instead of Google to find that information is beyond me.

    Still, I'm not one to condone killing a technology just because it CAN be used for something bad. Plus, it looks like Amazon will take a book off the list if the author insists, so there really isn't too much of a problem here.

    -- Dr. Eldarion --
    • Should this really be opt-out, though? I would think not. An author shouldn't have to take extra steps to prevent companies from making their work freely available. If that were the case, then other websites could keep doing it, and the authors would have to track them down one-at-a-time and hope to catch them all. I think it would need to be an opt-in system to prevent such absurdity.
      • I think the issue is that the publishers claim they have the right to allow Amazon to do this, and that it has nothing to do with the actual author's wishes. If they do actually have that right, then Amazon is doing them quite a service by even offering an opt-out.

        -- Dr. Eldarion --
    • How many novels have you read that you liked, and would purchase to read again if only you could remember what the title was, and all you know are a few choice quotes or unique scenes?

      OTOH, the article raises a valuable point about books like cookbooks, which are just collections of small bits of information, and the simple act of returning a page obviates the need to buy the book in the first place.

      It seems to me the authors, publishers, and vendors need to coordinate their efforts and produce satisfacto
    • lthough why they would go to Amazon instead of Google to find that information is beyond me.

      The amount of usefull information in the world available to people on the internet, compared to whats available though, say, inter-library loan is actualy pretty small. Unless you're talking about a subject like Computer Sciance, or programming.

      I mean, try to find a lot of relavent information on the history of Taiwanese Americans (for example). I had to actualy get up off my ass and to the library in order t
      • I had to actualy get up off my ass and [get] to the library in order to write a paper about 'em.

        What a waste of energy! Instead of clicking a few keys for convenient access to information, you needed: 1) the sun to pump out a bunch of energy for plants. 2) you had to eat a bunch of that food for calories. 3) had to spend that energy using inefficient legs to walk to your inefficient car to drive to the library to check out a heavy deadtree book. 4) that wasted time in transit and in line could have been u

    • Re:Interesting. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by clifyt (11768)
      "Although why they would go to Amazon instead of Google to find that information is beyond me."

      Because as noted in Wired, accurate reference material is just not as prevelant on the internet as it is in hard cold paper...something Amazon and others would like to eventually see changed.
    • by jpsowin (325530) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:23PM (#7310632) Homepage
      Sounds kinda like what you use your reference section at the library for. What's wrong with getting a quick quote from a book without buying it? I buy most of the books I use on a consistant basis, but a Ph. D. student is not going to buy every article and monograph they have to research to get a quote from. Just a thought. My point is that libraries are not "bad" and they do the same thing, except you actually have to pick up the book.

      Personally, I think this full text search is a great feature, and will only help with sales.
    • it seems they have a point. Novels wouldn't really be hurt by it (and may actually be helped), but think about reference books and other things.

      That doesn't matter: the publishers must be in good faith - after all falling sales would hurt them as well. When the authors disagree, it can be for one of two reasons:

      1) They honestly disagree with the publishers over whether it hurts sales or not.

      2) This is a negotiating tactic for more royalties: Firstly, if searchable books really generate more sales,
    • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Lulu of the Lotus-Ea (3441) <mertz@gnosis.cx> on Saturday October 25, 2003 @08:57PM (#7311125) Homepage
      ...it looks like Amazon will take a book off the list if the author insists, so there really isn't too much of a problem here.

      Think about how very fond you are of "opt out" email. The idea that an author could remove their book, after some elaborate procedure, if they are aware their book is indexed in the first place, is less than compelling.

      Mind you, even as an author (but one whose writing if available for free, as well as for money), I'm not per se agreeing with the Author's Guild. What I can see on Amazon looks like fair use quotations. But it might well be possible to easily reconstruct more of the text in a book that would qualify under fair use.

      One thing to keep in mind is that authors generally get majorly screwed over by publishers. E.g. Random House isn't really a whole lot more interested in "protecting authors" than the RIAA is in "protecting musicians".... so if a publisher has given permission, don't imagine they do it to help authors, nor even in conformance with the contracts they signed with those authors.

  • CDs all over again (Score:5, Interesting)

    by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Saturday October 25, 2003 @06:57PM (#7310468) Homepage
    Remember when CDs were in their own tornado in the mid 1980's and artists sued the labels saying the labels didn't have the right to republish? Artists of past recordings had to be bought off, and new contracts were ... less ambiguous. I expect the same thing to happen with the online book searching.
  • This could go either ways

    For Amazon: They "purchase" the books. Fair use allows cutting snippets out and showing people. They just built a search engine out of snippets.

    Against Amazon: They do not have the authorization to give out whole books, whether in snippets or not. Fair use does not allow complete articles of published material

    My opinion: I really dont know. I'd prefer more freedom when it comes to published material, but it's a fair request/statement the authors guild says. It's not like they dem
    • Fair use does allow professors to have chapters of books and magazine articles reproduced for distribution to their students, however.
      • Too true..

        Fair use also prevents professors from photocopying the whole book/magazine for class use.

        Considering how poorly done the law meaning of "fair use" is, it's worthless to give any credance to. Fair use is only fair after a couple million spent in the law coffers.
  • by mnmlst (599134) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @06:59PM (#7310486) Homepage Journal

    Other books at especially high risk include those that sell to the student (particularly college student) market as secondary reading. A student could easily grab the relevant chapter or two out of a book without paying for it.

    This whole thing just ain't right, as of yet. If you read the article, you can see that on the one hand, people have figured out how to get 108 pages out of a bestseller (that's unfair to the authors and publishers), and on the other hand, those same authors and publishers are expecting students to purchase entire books just to get the one or two chapters their teacher has directed them to read. Like the new music services, there should be a legal, reasonably priced (oh, boy) way to obtain those two chapters rather than having to purchase the entire book. As for the 108 pages, I am guessing they pulled that out of Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, yet another doorstop from this prolific author. As someone who has done a fair amount of writing and someone who has done a LOT of reading, I am sympathetic to both sides in this one. Looks to me like Amazon needs to try again.

    • "Other books at especially high risk include those that sell to the student (particularly college student) market as secondary reading. A student could easily grab the relevant chapter or two out of a book without paying for it."

      Or, of course, a college student could go to their university's library, where (*GASP!*) the textbook is probably on reserve. Oh horror of horrors!

  • by jwiegley (520444) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:00PM (#7310493)
    The author's guild may *think* the publishers don't have the right to do this but...

    As far as publishers are concerned they think they are God.

    Here's how the publishing world works: Publishers don't actually create anything. Due to today's technology they don't even provide a needed service. But publishers think they own, and created, every piece of thought in the world and that without them we would all be in the dark ages still. They also put on a good show pretending that they are out to protect the rights and income of the material's real creators.

    But its all bullsh*t. Just look at our favorite publishers the RIAA and MPAA. What is the author's guild going to do? Litigation? Publishers have all the money and until we change society enough so that we no longer tley on third party publishers they will continue to win all of the court battles brought against them.

    • Tell that to Harlan Ellison.

      He's well known for suing (and winning) when his ownership rights for his work are infringed on.

      Even against publishers.

      As cynical as many of us are, the law still does work when things like ownership of a book are concerned.
  • The article makes a good point: if my classmates and I can xerox together an entire textbook from Amazon printouts for $15 or $20 rather than each of us paying $160 for a copy of this doorstop [amazon.com], you can bet I'll be the first in line. Paper is cheap.

    In 80% of the college classes I've ever had, the prof makes you buy some crappy book he wrote, not because there isn't something better out there, but because he gets royalties on every copy he sells. And $160 I don't spend on textbooks is $160 I can spend on c
    • So you're going to photocopy 1304 pages? I think spending the extra money (though it is an extremely high amount) might be a wiser choice. You could get a part time/temp job and spend less time just earning the cash than photocopying all of that.
      • get a credit card, buy a office all in one printer with a automatic sheet feeder, insert original, hit copy, go for a couple beers, return the printer, get your $ back (and if you get it within a billing cycle, you don't even pay interest). You can even scan it in at the same time and print it double sided with 4 pages on each page. If you're going to be unethical, might as well go all the way. . . .
    • Or you could just borrow a friends book and copy it now. Maybe you and your friends could go in and buy one book and copy it. The point is that you don't need amazon to do this now.
    • by NonSequor (230139)
      I'm a math student and I hope to write my own textbook some day. Not because I'll get royalties for it, but because I want to make it cheap and fill it with curse words. That's the way text books should be.
  • College Students (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Trillian_1138 (221423) <slashdot AT fridaythang DOT com> on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:03PM (#7310512)
    Some of the examples given would seem to have little effect on the sales of books. If someone was only going to print out a specific recipe in a cookbook, or a couple of pages in a guidebook, they probably weren't amazingly inclined to get the book anyway.

    But near the end of the email Authors Guild rep says, " A student could easily grab the relevant chapter or two out of a book without paying for it. Students certainly have the time and most likely the inclination to do so, and, with the help of some willing colleagues, could print out the entire texts of books in the program."

    As a college student, especially in light of the [slashdot.org]
    recent NYT article on textbooks being found half-price or less overseas, it's not unreasonable to think a group of students might get together and pay $15 or $20 to print a couple hundred pages of textbook in the library.

    And if someone wrote some nefarious program to log into Amazon as multiple fake accounts to access an entire textbook and download it, everyone would use it. I can easily see textbook-printing rings, with get-togethers at the library to print and distribute free books. Hell, I'd be the first one in line. Paying $500 for a semester of books is rediculous.

    So, while I think the reaction of the Authors Guild is a little bit overboard, the email does rasie some valid points.

    The email also mentions, in passing, that, "[m]ost fiction titles are not likely to be greatly threatened." It would seem then, that maybe the type of book shold control how many pages you can access. For textbooks or cookbooks or guidebooks or the other topics the Authors Guild fears will be threatened, maybe a compromise could be reached so that only one or two consecutive pages could be accessed. Then, for fiction or books where it is less likely a user would only want a very small portion of the book (and be willing to use Amazon to avoid buying it), more could be accessed.

    This would seem to both help address the concerns raised in the email, and allow Amazon to offer this service.

    -Trillian
    • But, do you honestly think the number of people who would go to such lengths to get a free book would outnumber those who buy a book because they've verified it contains the information they want? It's not like in your scenario, the publishers are losing hundreds in book sales. That same group of students would, logically, band together and buy ONE book to share otherwise. The authors are being extremely short-sighted here. They might lose sales in a few instances, but the overall effect should be incre
      • JayBlalock said, "But, do you honestly think the number of people who would go to such lengths to get a free book would outnumber those who buy a book because they've verified it contains the information they want? It's not like in your scenario, the publishers are losing hundreds in book sales. That same group of students would, logically, band together and buy ONE book to share otherwise."

        Well, yes and no.

        I agree that, overall, the number of people who would go to such lengths would NOT outnumber those
    • by tessaiga (697968) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @08:19PM (#7310928)
      it's not unreasonable to think a group of students might get together and pay $15 or $20 to print a couple hundred pages of textbook
      This same opinion was expressed in the article, and it makes very little sense to me. Removing this feature from Amazon isn't going to affect textbook copiers anyhow. See, in most universities, there are these conveniently-located buildings called libraries, that have copies of just about every book for every class you'll take there. Many even have copies on reserve, so that they're never all checked out at once. The same building also has these fancy devices called photocopiers, which are good at high-volume duplication of paper.

      It strikes me that the effort involved in scamming all the scanned pages out of Amazon would be as great or greater than making the initial copy from a hardcopy by hand. Trying to guess keywords for each set of 5 pages, frankly, sounds like a lot of work. Subsequent copies are both equally easy regardless of whether you're using a printer to spit out scans from Amazon or a sheet-feeder on your photocopier.

      There are valid reasons for worrying about this technology (the point about cookbooks and reference books, where the relevant information really does only span a few pages, is especially well made), but this particular one is just the knee-jerk reflex to blame college students for yet more copyright-related legal measures.

      • Trying to guess keywords for each set of 5 pages, frankly, sounds like a lot of work.

        Unless of course Amazon includes the page number in the search results.
  • by SilentMajority (674573) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:08PM (#7310538) Homepage
    Imagine....thousands of authors being busted for plagiarism because of Amazon's search feature.

    What a nightmare it must be for those that built up lucrative careers and solid reputations on the backs of others--they're hoping they can hide behind the lawyers.

    • Please! Writers of non-fiction never have lucative careers (darn it!) and our fame is, shall we say, small.

      Plagiarism is always a problem. Amazon, like the Web and Google before it, makes it easier to steal rather than harder.

      Steven
  • Seems to me that this is the electronic equivalent of standing in the aisle at Borders and reading through a book. I agree with previous commetns that if somebody is looking for a particular bit of info, they will most likely search via Google or Yahoo. If they search on Amazon, I'd bet that there is a good chance that they are browsing for the book in order to purchase it.

    As far as the comment about college students getting textbooks this way: guess what? If the professor knows it will get light use,
  • by cyranoVR (518628) <cyranoVR@ g m ail.com> on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:14PM (#7310569) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    When we learned of the program, we thought that it would be impossible to read more than 5 consecutive pages from a book in the program. It turns out that it's quite simple (though a bit inconvenient) to look at 100 or more consecutive pages from a single lengthy book. We've even printed out 108 consecutive pages from a bestselling book. It's not something one would care to do frequently, but it can be done.

    The time is really funny, because Slashdot (and many major news outlets) were reporting the demise of the e-book not a few weeks ago. Now, we have new e-books in the form of Amazon's text search.

    I used to work for a start-up publishing company that morphed into an internet company. I happened to be the marketing director in charge of print book sales. One day, the CEO decided that it would be a great idea to offer the full text of all our books online for free! Since our target market was largely cash-starved students, this move worried me greatly. Obviously, our sales were goin to drop off tremendously (maybe to zero?).

    I discussed my concerns with the CEO. He made a very interesting point: For someone to print out the entire 200 - 500 pages of one of our titles would cost more in toner, paper and time than the $35 the customer would otherwise pay. This seemed to make sense at the time, but in retrospect it is kinda BS because most printers have double-sided multi-page-on-one-sheet capabilities that collapse toner/paper costs.

    In the end, we didn't see sales drop off that much. Customers still wanted to order old-fashioned books. Most didn't have the time/patience to print out the books from the internet, didn't have the technical knowledge to do so (hard to believe, but we're talking about MBAs here), or (most likely) it didn't even occur to them.

    People who were likely to print out the whole books online were probably also the ones borrowing copies from friends, photocopying from the library, buying used copies, etc. etc.

    All, that said, I have to side with the Authors Guild. In the case I described above, our web site was relatively unknown whereas Amazon is among the top end-destinations on the Internet. Book counterfeiters are one perl-script away from obtaining the full-text of the latest Harry Potter book and printing up their own illicit copies for street sale. Yeah, there are already fake copies of bestsellers floating around out there, but now making them will become that much easier.

    Comparisons to Napster and pirated music are obvious - however, unlike musicians, authors can't really draw income from "concert tours" as recording artists do. Authors live almost exclusively off royalty checks (with the exception of those lucky enough to pen books that can be cross-merchandised, made into movies, etc.)

    Still, I was skeptical that Amazon's text-search system delivered the advertised goods. Getting all those publishers to hand over their text - their lifeblood - is a monumental task in itself. But I guess the system does work after all - too well, in fact!
    • You've hit all the nails on the head -- great insight on this topic. The bottom line is that for certain kinds of books, the utility is having the entire book available for easy and high-quality perusal. The hassle factor is too high to produce a samizdat electronic version.

      But as the author of several computer books, I have some concerns that when it gets too easy for searchers to find a large chunk of contextual results, they won't buy the book.

      This should also tell us of the marginal utility of books:
    • In the end, we didn't see sales drop off that much. Customers still wanted to order old-fashioned books.

      That's exactly the idea behind Jim Baen's (Baen Books) Baen Free Library [baen.com], where you can read online or download many of the books (SF and fantasy) he publishes.
    • You don't seem to understand the idea of information very well. You only need to get the text once, then it doesn't matter how protected it was, since in electronic form it can be copied indefinitely. Even if there is DRM in every letter, you can retype it and distribute freely to everyone who wants it. It's impossible to stop movie piracy by preventing filming new movies with cameras, because you only need one person to get through and do it. It's also impossible to stop book piracy by limiting access to e
  • by FiloEleven (602040)
    For example, recipes are traditionally not protected by copyright, so cookbooks would seem to receive less protection. On the other hand, the effect of the search function would possibly have a greater impact on the sale of cookbooks than other types of books.

    So let me get this straight. If recipes aren't protected by copyright...and the problem lies with recipes...there is no problem. Yes?
  • So that it only works for books, or perhaps that items can be plugged with a "searchable" flag which can be disabled for manuals and other non-novel type literature which might lose out on such a search instead of benefitting.
  • by jpsowin (325530) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:20PM (#7310610) Homepage
    How long have we been hearing about Amazon implementing this? A while now. The "Authors Guild" should have said something a long time ago until waiting after Amazon already implemented the thing. Way to go.
  • I wonder if there isn't some kind of disconnect between the Authors Guild and the authors that make up the guild.

    I don't think most authors want people to be forced to buy their book in order to get at a couple of isolated pages. Most authors want people to buy the book because they like the book, and think it is worth owning a copy.

    True reference books are doomed, appropriately, in the age of the internet. I no longer need a paper dictionary when I can use dictionary.com or get access to the OED throug
  • Most academics chafe at the fact that the publishers maintain such a stranglehold on the content they publish. Trust me, it pisses of Professor X that others who would like to include an article or chapter of his in a course packet have to pay outrageous licensing fees. (This isn't only because he doesn't see a dime from those fees, but also because he believes the free exchange of ideas is crucial to progress--one of the reasons he is publishing in the first place.)

    So if amazon's service allows students
  • to provide a wonderful and immensely valuable tool when it "MIGHT" with a "HIGH DEGREE" of time, effort, and money be undermined. Lord knows someone couldn't go to a "UNIVERSITY LIBRARY" and do the same thing.

    =P
  • Authors Guild (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jonbaron (578700) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:53PM (#7310772)
    The "Authors Guild" is a self-appointed protector of the "rights" of authors. In particular, they try to collect royalties from Kinko's and other copying services, on scholarly articles included in course packs assigned for classes. They have had some success. Kinko's collects the fees, and increases the price of the course packs.

    As an author, I totally repudiate this attempt to act on my behalf. I want my work read. I do not want the 3 cents royalty. For several years in a row, I asked Authors Guild at least to turn over all my royalties to Unicef, instead of sending me a tiny check each year.

    In sum, this is a rougue outfit. Scholarly work is a public good.

  • I don't get it (Score:3, Interesting)

    by icejai (214906) on Saturday October 25, 2003 @07:54PM (#7310785)
    From the Article:
    "So a reader could choose to print out all the fish recipes from a cookbook in the program. Or the section on Tuscany from a travel book. We believe readers will do this, and the perplexing question is whether the additional exposure for a title -- and the presumptive increase in sales -- offsets sales lost from those who just use the Amazon system to look up the section of a book when they need it."
    I really don't understand his point. This guy clearly needs to get into the mindframe of the customer. Customers aren't going to buy a recipe book simply because the book has *one* good recipe. It happens in the music industry when people buy cd's - but they hate it!

    I mean, if I wanted to purchase a book for JDBC stuff, I wouldn't get a book with a JDBC section, I'd look for a book on JDBC! Likewise, why would a person who wants fish recipes so badly go through the trouble of fishing through a *single cookbook* for fish recipes and printing 100+ pages of that book using amazon search? Wouldn't it be easier, and more efficient to just search for a fish cookbook?

    I mean yeah, people *could* go through all that trouble, but just because someone *can*, it doesn't mean that they *will*.

    And, if a person goes through *that much trouble* to get a free recipe... amazon.com/ca would never be able to sell to them anyway if they didn't have the search!

    People who search for stuff on amazon WANT BOOKS, not just information. If information was all people wanted, they'd just use google... and get their recipes for free.

  • Of Course! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LuYu (519260) on Sunday October 26, 2003 @03:27AM (#7312561) Homepage Journal

    Everyone should have seen this coming.

    However, at least we know that these books are digitized somewhere. Now, all we need is a good samaritan to risk getting drawn and quartered and release them somewhere on the Net...

    All citizens of the US have a right to access [harvard.edu] this information.

    By denying us access, the publishers and authors are stealing from us, The People.

  • by joe_n_bloe (244407) on Sunday October 26, 2003 @05:14AM (#7312798) Homepage
    Actually I am planning to put the entirety of my Perl slides as well as Effective Perl Programming online, as time permits. I don't think this will negatively affect sales. Frankly (this probably sounds immodest, but so be it) the customers I am looking for will need the paper version so they can wear it out.

    Authors in the reference and cookbook business are SOL anyway, because the internet will inevitably shrivel that market down to the size of the completely internet illiterate. It's a funny thing, though. Even my 60-something year old mom can send email and surf the web now.

    As far as permission in my contract goes ... I suspect that my contract with A-W (now AWL or Pearson, depending which rung of the ladder you look at) gives them sufficient electronic rights to enable Amazon to create a searchable text, but I don't know whether it does or doesn't. I do know that Amazon has sold many, many copies of my book, and with luck this will help sell more. It doesn't seem to me that it could hurt.

    One thing that many /.-ers may not be aware of is that some publishers (by no means *all*) will give authors considerable flexibility in their contract terms. Some things are typically non-negotiable, like international translations and royalties (it's just too complicated anyway), but many other aspects, including various types of exclusivity, can be adjusted to suit both parties.

    Many authors are fearful that the value in their books is in the information and not in its physical presentation. In my experience, that is not yet the case. I would never, for example, use a computerized version of Joy of Cooking (and besides, it would have the sucky "new" recipes in it, nevermind requiring me to have a splashproof computer near the stove). There are some horrible books that people do consider disposable - Java "references" that are out of date when they hit the shelves, for example - but other more carefully written programming texts are not much fun to read on a glowing computer screen. Nor do they look good on a bookshelf. ;-)

    -joseph

"Text processing has made it possible to right-justify any idea, even one which cannot be justified on any other grounds." -- J. Finnegan, USC.

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