Home » Agents, Big Publishing, Google, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing » From Nathan Bransford – Are you skeered of Google?

From Nathan Bransford – Are you skeered of Google?

27 January 2013

From the mouth of Nathan Bransford:

“Like many out there on the Internet, I was rather shocked by Harper’s Magazine publisher John R. MacArthur’s recent broadside against Google. I wasn’t horrified because I disagree with the sentiment, though I do, but because it displayed shocking ignorance and incuriosity about one of the most important powers shaping the future of words.
“If you harbor fears about whether the leaders of traditional publishing are equipped to shepherd their institutions into a digital era, I urge you not to read it”.
“I don’t blame people for being disquieted by the rapid rise of new technology and the effects it has on our lives, and there is also a long tradition of literary technophobia that MacArthur is seemingly stepping into.

“I do blame people for incuriosity and failure to investigate the enemies you see in your midst. I do blame people for failing to adapt to the inevitabilities of the future. It’s not Google’s job to do your work for you and bring readers to you because… why again? It’s your job to understand how Google works and adapt accordingly so your existing readers can find what they’re looking for and so you can attract new ones.”

Read the rest here:  The Sound Dinosaurs Make

Julia Barrett

Agents, Big Publishing, Google, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing

34 Comments to “From Nathan Bransford – Are you skeered of Google?”

  1. The original Harper’s article notes something that we rarely see, someone calling Google out on profiting from illegal activities by providing “logistical support for pirating”.

    A few days back, I wanted to find a free copy of Going Clear, the new book out on $cientology. I didn’t search through countless pirate websites, but instead let Google do the search for me. It was too easy.

    If you don’t think it’s a big deal, then try providing logistical support for a bank robbery, kidnapping, or, heck, even a mugging, then tell the police you were copying Google’s business model and didn’t know what you were doing was wrong. Good luck with that.

    • Oh, I think I will look up the address of the nearest bank in the yellow pages book (that was dropped on my door this week) and then post a message accusing the yellow pages publishing company of providing me with logistical support.

      Begone, troll!

      [Note to regulars: Please don’t respond to this troll. I’ll ban him if I have to.]

      • Pardon me, I am new to this forum.

        It appears that the anon fellow above simply has an opinion.
        It may or may not be popular.

        But your name-calling, insisting that others ignore him, and implied censorship feels really unpleasant, and smacks of a cultish sensibility.

        Is there a reason for that…? Or should I take it as a sign that I should just stay away from this site…?

        • Sigh…

          He’s a troll, or he believes the nonsense that an item/idea/technology is evil because it can be used to do harm. Either way it isn’t going to lead to a meaningful discussion.

        • Skip,

          I’m going to explain this to you once. Trolling is the practice of making off-topic and/or inflammatory comments with the intent of provoking an emotional response and disrupting the normal conversation.

          If Mr. Anonymous had wanted to make his point in a responsible way he could have. But that’s not what he did at all.

          Why did Mr. Anonymous need to include the fact that he pirated a current non-fiction bestseller? Why did he spell Scientology with a dollar sign? Why did he hide his identity?

          Those are classic techniques of a troll. He’s trying to start a fight about piracy and/or Scientology and doesn’t want to take ownership of his behavior. I don’t have a problem with his opinion. I have a problem with his tactics.

          The regulars here enjoy engaging in very spirited debate. Just look at some of the threads where Brendan and I have gotten in to it. But if someone shows up out of the blue and introduces himself with trolling comments (the way you did last week), I will call them out. If someone abandons their normal handle to stir up trouble about piracy (the way Mr. Anonymous did), I will call them out.

          I appreciate the way you have started to make positive contributions to the discussion here. You’ve kept your comments on-topic and not brought in off-topic axes to grind. I hope you understand that I am sincere in hoping that you stay around to participate here.

          I’m not engaging in implied censorship. The proprietor of this blog is on vacation and, as a guest host, I’m trying to fulfill my responsibilities to him. I will leave it to him to judge whether or not I went too far.

      • There was nothing obscene, defamatory or abusive about the message. Your defining someone as a troll merely because you disagree with them, and that’s not sufficient cause to censor them.

      • Just want to say I agree with you, William — and perhaps the best explanation is Barbara’s statement below.

        It’s tiresome having everyone and everything turned into the enemy.

        • Have to agree with William as well.

          Lot of trolls appearing last few days. As someone who has moderated a very large group, I can attest the ones shouting largely about “Freedom to express my opinions” are precisely the people who won’t let other people do the same.

          The only way to deal with trolls is to shut them off (and maybe out of the group) as quickly as possible. Never argue with them or debate with them. Groups that don’t control trolls soon go out of control as trolls will abuse long term members in the name of “free speech” and soon all the good members start leaving, till only the trolls are left.

          If you think I’m going on and on about a minor thing- its because I have seen this pattern again and again. Which is why I agree with Williams approach.

    • The Guest Posters are doing a great job, but unless a poster is posting frequent hostile posts, I think we should leave the banning to PG when he returns.

      Banning can be a pretty big deal, and it can have unintended consequences. I appreciate that moderating is challenging – and, like I said, the guest posters are terrific – but I’d suggest we not go as far as banning unless things are totally out of control.

      Otherwise – although this may not be the intended result – people won’t feel safe on a site that tends to be alittle edgy anyway.

  2. Why is everyone and everything an enemy?

  3. “As a journalist and board member of the Authors Guild”

    Pretty much stopped reading there.

    “If you don’t think it’s a big deal”

    It isn’t. Because most people aren’t thieves.

  4. From the first article:

    “This unending assault of babble potentially could lead to revolutionary conditions in which the new writer-teacher proletariat rises up to overthrow the Internet oligarchy and the politicians and government agencies who protect it.”


    WTF is this jackass smoking? This drivel is about the most coherent thing he says in the entire article and it is breathtakingly devoid of anything resembling thought.

    • Or complaining that they “steal” everything that isn’t protected by copyright. So they “steal” stuff that is freely available to all. I had no idea that constituted stealing–next time I sit on a park bench or read a sign, I’ll keep an eye out for the cops!

    • Yeah, I think Mr. Uses-Obscure-Words-Intentionally-to-Stroke-His-Ego is going to gather massive popular support for this any day now. And without using the internet to organize it!

    • I’ve noticed that communists and others who want to eliminate private property usually complain the loudest when someone takes their stuff.

  5. “Proletariat”? From John R. MacArthur, grandson of billionaire John D. MacArthur?


  6. doesn’t have quite the same ring as Howard V. Hendrix’s rant:

    I felt I was not the president who would provide SFWAns the “net time” they seemed to want at this point in the organization’s development, or who would bless the contraction of our industry toward monopoly, or who would give imprimatur to the downward spiral that is converting the noble calling of Writer into the life of Pixel-stained Technopeasant Wretch.

  7. Can I appropriate that, do you think? It’ll make my garret seem almost…well…warm.

  8. This is a good article by Nathan. He doesn’t usually take such a strong stand, but I can see why he did here.

    This journalist is the head editor of Harpers’ and he clearly has no idea how Google and search functions work. It’s hard to know what you don’t know – but still. Has he ever used Google?

    I hope he learned from his mistake here.

  9. MacArthur’s rant seems to imply that he believes google searches weight google products more heavily than non-google products. Thus google directs more traffic to its own stuff. I have not observed this. Has anyone else? What does google sell, besides advertisement? Although changing advertisement modes seems to be his main target.

    MacArthur implies google ads are taking ad dollars away from magazines that survive on advertisement. He referred to google ads as “advertising…dispersed through the Internet in more and more fractionalized and lower-cost quantities” which presumably hurts magazines like Harper’s.

    So far as I could tell (he’s certainly obscure and tangled in his ranting), he doesn’t like things changing and ascribes criminality to the change, because he hates it so passionately.

    :: shakes head ::

    • Google organic searches do not weigh google products higher than anything else, BUT google does have reserved spots. There are the obvious ones like the adverts (top and right), but in the list of search results you often get results from google properties such as youtube or google places which are not organic search results.

      So, yeah, no doubt that google does walk a tightrope.

      I also agree with Mr Anonymous that google does make it easier to do crimes of all sorts. It will, in time, also make it easier to detect criminals ( it’s probably off topic, but I would assume every search you make is recorded forever, and certainly in Britain legal powers are slowly going through Parliament to require technology providers to give information to the police)

      • Sure Google makes it easier to commit crimes but is it Google’s fault people commit crimes with their service?

        I hate to relate it back to “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” but it’s easier than coming up with something original.

        • Asraidevin, there are two things you need to consider to answer that question:

          1. The moral level
          2. The legal level

          And, I suspect, culture does affect your conclusions. For example America has a very strong freedom of expression culture, whereas Britain (my country) has a weaker one.

          Personally, I think that at a moral level Google has an obligation to as far as reasonably practical prevent its technology being used for illegal purposes.

          In the real world there is a lot of difference between someone searching for the location of a bank (in order to rob it), and someone searching for pornographic pictures of children. With the first Google can’t possibly be responsible, with the second there is a moral duty in my view for Google to filter its search results.

          From a legal perspective, it all depends on jurisdiction. In America there is a fair use exception that protects search engines being guilty of copyright infringement if they unknowingly link to an infringing resource. But there is no such exception as far as I am aware for other potential liability issues. So, the legal cases should be interesting over the next decade.

          In Britain, there emphatically is no such fair use exception for supplying search results which link to copyright infringing material. While as far as I am aware it has not been brought to court, I suspect that if that were to ever happen Google might find itself in the same position as a newspaper which allows adverts of copyright infringing material. Certainly, Google has always been in danger in the UK for providing search results to obscene information… which, again, is clearly illegal.

          • If Google screens out child pornography, and I start a search engine called Pornosearch, should there be a law to shut me down? If I locate my site on a server in a country that protects my right to run Pornosearch, should there be a law demanding that ISP’s in your country prevent all access to my site? If I start an emailing list called The Skin List, which hunts down and distributes links to porn sites, are we going to pass laws demanding that all ISP’s scan all emails for this kind of information?

            My points are:

            1. If I am unethical and determined and I see a legal way to make a lot of money, neither the law nor society will ever, ever catch up with me and stop what I’m doing.

            2. You cannot create a system that locks out evil. You cannot eliminate evil. You can rarely even define evil well enough to fight it on a social level, and even then, it will continue, and you will be broke. This has been the case with piracy thus far.

            3. People who want something like child pornography are going to find it, and you won’t stop them. It’s similar to #1 except on a much bigger scale and doesn’t necessarily obey the law (drugs, child porn, etc).

            4. The only country I know for sure has the kind of control and laws like this is China. I’ve met some of the people whose job is to sit and read through emails. Citizens who complained about the appearance of the “Bird’s Nest” stadium for the 2008 Olympics disappeared. It’s not a good system which has that much power and allows that little privacy.

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