Hot on the heels of its $125 million dollar settlement with book publishers over the company’s plan to scan out-of-print books and add them to its online search capability, Google now wants to be the place people go to read. The book-scanning project is being expanded to include in-print books with the links to buy them. Google expects it to go live sometime in 2009. The catch is that the books can only be read on a computer. This puts them into competition with Amazon which also envisions people curling up with their laptop to read the latest from a favored author.
I suppose there are those who will think this is marvelous, and who will enjoy the instant gratification of buying a book online and being able to enjoy it immediately, but I think it really changes the experience of reading and overcomplicates what is really a simple process. Books are totally portable, can be read anywhere there is a reasonable light source, and don’t depend on batteries (unless you read by flashlight). Books can be passed along to friends and family, and when placed in a bookcase are a monument to the curiosity and interests of the reader. Then there is the tactility of a book, the turning of the pages, and yes, the lack of technology required to simply read. Many of us already spend more time than we’d like staring at a computer screen and I question how many will want to do their personal reading –which is often a time of escape from the day-to-day– just a click away from the distractions of emails and the internet.
Some years back Frank Romano famously pointed out that printed books will survive because of the Three Bs: Bedroom, Bathroom and Beach. He wasn’t wrong then and his insight holds true today.