I recently read two posts on the official Google blog about the recent
hubub around their efforts to digitize books and make them searchable
over the Web. The posts are Why we believe in Google Print and The point of Google Print.
My immediate personal reaction was how different Google is from
Microsoft when it comes to blogging. On the one hand Google is quick to
fire people who don't toe the party line in their blogs
encourages its employees to show their individual voices even if they
sometimes disagree with the company's party line. On the other hand,
Microsoft frowns on employees commenting on pending legal actions such
as lawsuits while Google has its employees blogging their side of the
story in an official capacity. The common thread here is "controlling
the message". Google is all about that.
The other thing that struck me about Google's messaging around
Google Print was pointed out by Dave Winer in his post A turning
point for the Web?
It's time to realize that Google is no longer the little company we used to
love. They're now a huge company that pushes individuals around like a lot of
other huge companies. They need some balance to their power. And it's ridiculous
to blindly take their side on every issue. Sometimes they're wrong, and I
believe this is one of those times. It's certainly worth considering the
possibility that they're wrong.
Here's where the point about controlling the message shows up. By
any measure, Google is multi-billion dollar, multinational corporation.
However whenever its executives speak, they do an excellent job of
portraying the company as if it is the altruistic side project of a
bunch of geeky college kids. I don't just mean their corporate slogan
of "Do No Evil" although it is one manifestation of this strategy.
Better examples are Sergey Brin's comments at the recent Web 2.0 conference
where he states that their motives for creating the Google AdSense
was to help keep content-based websites stay in business. Of course,
syndicating ads now brings in about three quarters of a billion dollars
in revenue for them a quarter.
So what does this have to do with Google Print? Well, I personally
don't buy computer books anymore thanks to the Web and search engines.
The last book I bought was Beginning RSS and Atom Programming
and that's only because I wrote one of the forewards. The only time
I've opened a computer book in the past year was recently when I
cracked open the reference section of Dynamic HTML
when looking for
content within the book I wouldn't have needed the book. Also, I've
been wanting a cheap or free Integrated Development Environment (IDE)
IDE while searching for content within the book in my 'hypothetical
book search engine' I definitely would have clicked on it and maybe
purchased the IDE. My 'hypothetical book search engine' would wean me
completely off of needing to buy computer books while probably making a
tidy sum for itself by selling my eyeballs to software companies trying
to sell me IDEs, profilers, debuggers and software training.
My point is that Google Print will likely make the company a lot of
money and could cost certain publishes a lot of money in lost sales.
Even if it doesn't, the publishing industry will likely cede some
control to Google. That's what these lawsuits are about and from that
perspective I can understand why various publishers have
initiated lawsuits with Google. To frame this as 'the evil publishing
industry is trying to prevent us from completing our corporate mission
of making information more accessible to users' is disingenuous at best and downright manipulative at worst.
Markets are conversations, to succeed in the marketplace you have to
dominate the conversation and control it to suit your needs. Google is
definitely good at that.