While the wait continues for a decision in the long-running Google Book Search lawsuit and settlement proposal, a new study throws cold water on the idea that Google Book Search is bad for the publishing industry. And the study suggests that Google’s scanning and digital previews of books may be helping publishers sell more books.
The study, published last month by Hannibal Travis, an Associate Law Professor at the Florida International University College of Law, examines the revenues and operating incomes of U.S. publishers that claim they’ll be most affected by the settlement and “finds no evidence of a negative impact upon them.” Here’s a fuller excerpt from the paper’s conclusion:
This study has found no support for an imminent monopoly by Google over books. Publishers of printed books continue to increase their sales and profits. Their rate of sales growth has increased since the scanning of books into GBS by Google. Book sales are growing faster than retail sales or the economy as a whole. These findings suggest that the benefits of digital libraries to American students and persons of limited disposable income, in terms of accessibility of information about and inside books, need not be sacrificed to save publishers from “Napsterization” and the loss of their customers. Moreover, the potential gains in economic efficiency, freedom of expression, and global democratization represented by digital libraries like GBS are more likely to outweigh any damage done by GBS to publishers, than had the findings of this study been otherwise.
This Article challenges the conventional wisdom within publishing industry lobbying groups concerning the economic impact of mass book-digitization projects. Using the impact of GBS on the U.S. publishers believing themselves to be the most-affected by it, it finds no evidence of a negative impact upon them. To the contrary, it provides some evidence of a positive impact, and proposes further empirical research to identify the mechanisms of book digitization’s economic impact.
The 42-page study can be downloaded for free in PDF format from the Social Science Research Network website. You may debate whether or not there’s cause and correlation between publisher revenues (which likely come from a variety of sources) and the scanning/availability of digital previews on Google Book Search. But there’s little doubt that supporters of the book search settlement will be using this study to advance their arguments.