August 1, 2014

Random, Amazon Test Pay-Per-View

By Andrew Albanese, Norman Oder

Random House Inc., the world’s largest trade book publisher, announced an online ‘pay-per-page-view’ effort on November 3, the same day the online retailer Amazon.com made a similar announcement – shaking up the world of e-content and raising questions about the role of libraries in providing such access.

Random House will negotiate separate agreements with vendors in this arena but has outlined some key components for each deal: books will be available for full indexing, search, and display, but downloading, printing, and copying will not be permitted. A publisher-determined ‘free sample’ of page views up to a typical threshold of five percent of a book’s total length will be permitted. For the initial range of fiction and narrative nonfiction titles, 4¢ per page will be paid to Random House, Inc. by vendors for every page beyond the free sample. Vendors will establish their own pricing to consumers, with Random House suggesting that ‘$0.99 for 20 pages could represent an attractive introductory consumer offer.’

Richard Sarnoff, president of Random House, Inc.’s Corporate Development Group, said that Random House would allow authors to opt out of the pay-per-page-view program and hinted that Random House might eventually decide to host and serve pages inhouse. Random House has submitted only a limited number of in-copyright books to Google Book Search (formerly Google Print). The latter program does not yet include a pay-per-view component.

Amazon enters

While Amazon.com did not announce pricing information, Amazon Pages will enable purchase of online access to any page, section, or chapter of a book. Another offering, Amazon Upgrade, will allow customers who buy a physical copy of a book to get online access to the whole book – especially useful for topics such as programming and cooking, Amazon suggested. The program is based on Amazon’s Search Inside the Book, which allows digital searching of texts. Half the books sold in the United States by Amazon.com are in the Search Inside the Book program, and Amazon has recently launched Search Inside the Book in the UK, Germany, France, Canada, and Japan.

While the specific publishers involved in the new programs were not all named, some heavyweights have signed on. ‘It is important for the publishing community to explore new business models for digital delivery that compensate publishers and authors fairly,’ said John Sargent, CEO, Holtzbrinck Publishers.

Google rentals?

Less than two weeks later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google had discussed with at least one publisher the possibility of Google offering users the opportunity to ‘rent’ books for up to a week – for about ten percent of the purchase price of the book. The Journal said the publisher considered the price too low.

Earlier, on November 2, Google unveiled the first scans from its Google Library Project, which were limited to public domain books and other noncopyrighted materials, such as government documents. Google officials did not estimate how many books it has scanned from member libraries, but the New York Times reported that there are more than 10,000 public domain works on Google’s site now available from libraries. Google officials said that each page of the scanned materials is fully available online and that they would continue scanning copyrighted books.

Gorman on Google

American Library Association president Michael Gorman, whose comments on bloggers caused controversy earlier this year, now has some librarians peeved at him for his criticism of Google’s scan plan.’ I feel that this is a potential disaster on several levels,’ Gorman told the Wall Street Journal. ‘They are reducing scholarly texts to paragraphs. The point of a scholarly text is they are written to be read sequentially from beginning to end, making an argument and engaging you in dialogue.’ On his Copycense blog, librarian and policy analyst K. Matthew Dames asked, ‘Has it occurred to Gorman that Google’s digitization projects may allow a researcher to discover a source about which she knew nothing, and then enter a library to use that text or order it through the interlibrary loan process?’

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