Google Plays Librarian

Erick Schonfeld deciphers what the internet hegemon is really up to:

Google is not digitizing these books so it can sell copies of them. They are out of print for a reason. There is no market for them as whole books. Their value lies in cutting them up into snippets and relevant excerpts, and showing those snippets along with search ads to people looking for related information. The reason they are valuable to Google is because they are a rich source of high quality information that will improve its search results, and in fact give them an information advantage over other search engines without equal access to the world’s books.

There would be some value in printing them out via the espresso book machine. The demand for any individual out of print book is small but the sum demand for all out of print books is significant. When doing a run of one costs the same as doing a run of 10,000 such exchanges suddenly become profitable. Alan Jacobs has mixed feelings.