Thursday, September 17, 2009

Good News: Out-of-Print Books Now Available at Bookstores - Bad News: Same Thing

"Google Lets You Custom-Print Millions of Public Domain Books"
Epicenter Wired (September 17, 2009)

"What's hot off the presses come Thursday

"Any one of the more than 2 million books old enough to fall out of copyright into the public domain.

"Over the last seven years, Google has scanned millions of dusty tomes from deep in the stacks of the nation's leading university libraries and turned them into searchable documents available anywhere in the world through its search box.

"And now Google Book Search, in partnership with On Demand Books, is letting readers turn those digital copies back into paper copies, individually printed by bookstores around the world...."

The Wired article does a pretty good job of discussing another angle in digital-to-print services. The technology isn't exactly new: but this commercial application is.

For readers and bookstores, this sounds like good news. Some small publishing houses, maybe not so much. Like the Neumann Press, a dozen or so miles north of here. They've made a modest business of taking out-of-print books with no copyright holder, reprinting and selling them.

Right now, their prices are reasonable and competitive. In Barnes & Noble/B. Dalton, Borders Books and Music/Waldenbooks/Brentano's, and all the rest start selling the same titles at around the same price - I'm not sure how Neumann Press will stay in business.

I suppose they could partner with one of the big chains, and act as a sort of indexing service.

On the other hand, I'll be surprised if a 'Printarama Books & Latte 2-Go' will - or can - offer the same quality printing and binding that Neumann Press and others provide. But I may be 'way off the fiftieth percentile, in my appreciation for the format that information comes in.

The main thing, I think, is that the information that's been locked away, gathering dust, in university archives is becoming available to just about everybody - in America, at least - who can scrape together an hour's wage or so for a book.

Which gets me into a nostalgic mood, remembering my days as a researcher: finding which dusty archive held the information I sought; negotiating with the archivist for permission to enter, and search, and read, what lay within.

But, much as I enjoyed the schmoozing/negotiating and bending over dusty tomes, I like being able to do what used to take weeks in a few minutes, sitting here by the air conditioner.

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