There’s a new service out there that allows anyone to send in their paper books, whole boxes of them, and get them fully digitized and OCRed, where they can then be accessed in a personal archive in a multitude of digital formats.
Doesn’t this sound great? I’ve got these old Bantam Classic paperbacks–pages yellowed, glue desiccated–and I’d love to send those in and have them forever as files in the cloud, transferrable to any device I want. There’s something inviting about shipping out all that silverfish food and a week later seeing it pop up in the cloud.
The only problem is that this service is not for consumers, it’s for publishers. And it’s not likely that Google will offer it to us, ever. The likely outcome will be that eventually every mouldering tome in our decrepit paper collections will already have been scanned and available — and we’ll have to pay for it again to get it that way. We’ll still have all this decaying paper and not know exactly what to do with it.
If there was any sense in the publishing industry at all, there would be some big publisher or distributor who marketed permanent backups of your paper in the cloud. With all the rights, plates, and digital masters, there would be no laborious unbinding and scanning to cut into profits. And surely there are enough people feeding a $50B sector to ensure a pretty large number of lifetime subscribers. This would be a new, renewable source of revenue for thirsty giants. And unlike the pulping of newly minted titles, this would be some kind of sweet vengeance on the first sale doctrine, as used copies were destroyed and taken off secondhand markets forever.
But the problem with that scenario is that big publishing, when it comes to digital distribution, tries to force the print process and model on it, over and over.
Which is why they’re like the kid on the playground who loses a fight slowly, getting up every time and blindly trying the same moves that got him knocked down. This is despite the fact that they’re outnumbered: Google is punching them in the face while Amazon holds them and Apple gives them a wedgie, and still they don’t seem to learn. How much more milk money will be lost? How much longer do we have watch this happen?