Rousting the Book Pirates From Google

30 August 2015

From The New York Times:

The Haggler will now don his professorial tweeds because he starts this episode in teacher mode. All of the action below revolves around the Google Play store.

. . . .

In Forbes recently, Erik Kain called Google Play “an ugly, poorly organized store filled with myriad knockoffs, dubious ‘games’ and other apps.” That sounds a bit harsh to the Haggler, a Google Play regular who has had mostly positive experiences.

That said, the site has problems.

Q. Book piracy has taken a new form. Someone scanned my entire e-book, “Graphic Design Solutions,” created a new cover and is selling it on Google Play. It is the same e-book, verbatim, and inside are the same images, same layout and the same interviews. The only difference is the name of the author. A person named Jazmin Bonilla gets the credit.

My royalties have plummeted, which affects my ability to donate to scholarships for my university students. Both my publisher and I have notified Google, but no action has been taken. Maybe the company will listen to you.


. . . .

[The Haggler’s] first thought was that if e-book piracy were a serious issue on Google Play, there would be other examples. There are many. A quick search led the Haggler to a site called The Digital Reader. There, the writer Nate Hoffelder detailed “rampant” e-book piracy, as he put it in a May post, in Google Play. He found that one shop was selling more than 100 pirated versions of best sellers by authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Sidney Sheldon and Ellery Queen.

They cost $2.11 each. But even these oddly priced bargains were kind of a rip-off. Mr. Hoffelder downloaded a few and found they “were clearly inferior copies with missing formatting, generic or outdated covers, and other problems,” he wrote.

. . . .

Mr. Hoffelder said that Google was aware of the problem but responded slowly to complaints from authors and publishers and sometimes did not respond at all. As bad, when the company acted, he stated, it would often remove pirated e-books but allow e-book pirates to remain on the site.

. . . .

So the Haggler contacted Google. He included a link to both the authentic “Graphic Design Solutions” in Google Play as well as the fake. A guy named Matt McLernon immediately got in touch. Like many members of Google’s public relations staff, Mr. McLernon was exceptionally pleasant — and hamstrung. Google is forever worried that the details of its inner workings will be used to game its algorithms and filters and secret sauces by an assortment of miscreants. So its P.R. team is filled with really bright, really friendly people who dearly wish they could be more helpful.

That said, we have enough light to see what happened. About 18 months ago, Google Play started selling self-published e-books. Any author could post and sell his or her work on the site. But in February — and why this started then is a mystery that Mr. McLernon did not explain — a wave of piracy was spotted by book publishers.

“It was mostly e-books in the science fiction genre,” said Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer at HarperCollins. “So we had a number of calls with Google.”

It emerged that the pirated books were being uploaded by people using Google Play through its self-publishing channel. People were opening accounts, ostensibly to publish their own work, and then selling digital copies of popular, and not so popular, e-books that they had not written.

“I don’t know if it is my immense power,” Ms. Restivo-Alessi said, “or if they were having similar conversations with other publishers at the time, but they listened to me, and they shut down the point of entry for these pirates.”

Mr. McLernon confirmed this. In May, Google stopped enrolling any new self-publishing authors. At the same time, a team of employees went through all of the complaints filed by publishers. Pirate accounts were deleted. (The company eventually plans to restart the program.)

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Stephen for the tip.

Google Shutters Its Play Books Publisher Portal in Order to “Improve Its Content Management Capabilities”

26 May 2015

From Ink, Bits & Pixels:

Do you know how I’ve been harping on the rampant commercial piracy in Google Play Books (four posts in the past month)?

I think Google finally got the message. I’ve just read on Twitter, and confirmed from a second source, that Google has closed the Google Play Books Partner Center to new users.

The Partner Center is Google’s name for the place where authors and publishers upload books to sell in Google Play.

. . . .

[A] Google rep posted the text in the support forums:

We’ve temporarily closed new publisher sign ups in the Play Books Partner Center, so we can improve our content management capabilities and our user experience. We’re working to reopen this to new publishers soon. Thanks for your patience.

. . . .

The Partner Center has been locked for 5 days now while Google is doing something behind the scene. They have yet to share any details but let’s hope that includes adding ways to detect pirates.

Link to the rest at Ink, Bits & Pixels and thanks to Randall for the tip.

Can Google Outsell Amazon and eBay?

18 May 2015

From The Wall Street Journal:

Google Inc. will launch buy buttons on its search-result pages in coming weeks, a controversial step by the company toward becoming an online marketplace rivaling those run by Inc. and eBay Inc.

The search giant will start showing the buttons when people search for products on mobile devices, according to people familiar with the launch.

The buttons will accompany sponsored—or paid—search results, often displayed under a “Shop on Google” heading at the top of the page. Buttons won’t appear with the nonsponsored results that are driven by Google’s basic search algorithm.

If shoppers click on the buy buttons, they will be taken to another Google product page to complete the purchase, the people explained. On that page, they will be able to pick sizes and colors and shipping options, as well as complete the purchase, one of the people said.

The products will still be provided and sold by retailers, rather than by Google. Retailers including Macy’s Inc. are in talks with Google about taking part in the launch, the people added. A Macy’s spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment on Friday.

. . . .

Some retailers said they worry the move will turn Google from a valuable source of traffic into a marketplace where purchases happen on Google’s own websites. The retailers, who wouldn’t voice their concerns publicly, fear such a move will turn them into back-end order takers, weakening their relationships with shoppers.

Retailers currently send Google data feeds on the products they are selling online, and then pay Google when shoppers click through to their websites.

To mollify retailers’ concerns, Google will allow consumers to opt into the same marketing programs that they would be exposed to had they made the purchase on the retailers’ own websites, one of the people said. That means retailers will get address information and likely email addresses for future marketing efforts as long as shoppers opt in.

. . . .

Google won’t send those payment details to the retailers, one of the people said. After Google gets the money from shoppers it will pass the payment on to the retailer. Depending on how the consumer chooses to pay, Google or the retailer may show up on customer billing statements, one of the people said.

. . . .

Google will still be paid by retailers through its existing advertising model, rather than taking a cut of the sales price of items—the usual way online marketplaces like Amazon’s and eBay’s work.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Google Removes News Snippets From Complaining Publications In Germany; Publications Claim It’s ‘Blackmail’

3 October 2014

It’s not just Amazon under siege by the entitled old guard special snowflakes:

Earlier this year, we noted a somewhat ridiculous and cynical attempt by some German newspapers to demand payment from Google for sending them traffic via Google News — and not just a little bit, but 11% of gross worldwide revenue on any search that showed one of their snippets. There were a few issues that we noted here: first, anyone not wanting to appear in Google News can quite easily opt-out. Second, Google News in Germany doesn’t show any ads. Third, those very same newspapers were using Google’s own tools to appear higher in search, suggesting that they certainly believed they were getting value out of being in Google’s index.

While German regulators rejected this request from the news publication industry group VG Media, Google has now decided to remove all news snippets from VG Media publications. It will still display results from those publications, but only in pure link/title format. Google claims it’s doing this to “remove [the] legal risks” from ongoing legal action from VG Media, but it seems equally likely that this will also decrease the traffic to those publishers’ websites.

VG Media’s spokesperson seems to honestly think that there’s some sort of moral requirement for Google to both pay for and show snippets. Again from Meyer:
The spokesman said VG Media was still in talks with the regulator about the case, and would add a complaint about this latest move. But how does this move harm consumers? I asked him. “Because they won’t have quality content in the future” if Google doesn’t pay for the snippets it uses, he claimed.

But surely Google actually helps publishers by sending traffic their way — do the publishers really believe that anyone sees a sentence-or-two-long snippet in Google News and then goes “Eh, that’s enough, I don’t need to click through”?
It’s difficult to see how this is anything other than “We failed to develop our own business model, so the company that did ought to just give us money.”

The message here is the same as with the Amazon complaints: they can’t compete under the rules they themselves crafted so the goverment has to step in to help them.

Good snark at TechDirt:

In Google Books appeal, Authors Guild decries Google’s impact on Amazon sales

12 April 2014

From TeleRead:

The Authors Guild is appealing Google’s November fair use win in its Google Book scanning case. The Guild says that Google is “yanking readers out of online bookstores” and stifling online bookstore competition with its digitized books.

“Google emptied the shelves of libraries and delivered truckloads of printed books to scanning centers, where the books were converted into digital format,” the Guild’s lawyers said.

They wrote that the library project was designed to lure potential book purchasers away from online retailers like and drive them to Google.

Wait, what?

. . . .

Second, this is the same Authors Guild that blamed lax antitrust enforcement for Amazon’s domination of the online book sales market, called Amazon “anticompetitive,” and insisted that the DoJ antitrust suit against the publishers was only going to help Amazon.

Now they’re suddenly all concerned over Google’s impact on Amazon’s wellbeing? Seriously?

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Appeals Court Tosses Out Class Action Status in Google Books Lawsuit

1 July 2013

From The Digital Reader:

Remember that lawsuit that the Authors Guild and the AAP filed against Google over Google Print Google Book Search Google Books in 2005?

A 3 judge panel on the 2nd Court of Appeals just ruled that Judge Denny Chin erred in certifying that the plaintiffs could act as a class. Instead the 3 judges believed he should have first considered Google’s argument of a fair use defense.

“Putting aside the merits of Google’s claim that plaintiffs are not representative of the certified class — an argument which, in our view, may carry some force — we believe that the resolution of Google’s fair use defense in the first instance will necessarily inform and perhaps moot our analysis of many class certification issues,” the 2nd Circuit said.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

More from Paid Content:

The new ruling (see below) is a blow to the Authors Guild, which revived the original law suit in late 2011, because it unplugs Chin’s earlier decision to let the case proceed as a class action — allowing every registered author in America to sue together. Google had objected to the class action status, claiming it forced authors who liked the scanning project into a lawsuit with those who didn’t. The appeals court appeared to agree with Google’s position, writing that is “an argument which, in our view, may carry some force.”

But the most significant part of the ruling is that Chin must now directly rule on whether Google’s activities are “fair use” — a four-part test that looks at issues like the purpose of the copying and its effect on market sales. Google has long argued that its scanning of more than 20 million books has not hurt authors, but helps to make forgotten or hard-to-find works available to larger audience.

. . . .

Finally, the new ruling raises questions on how much longer the Authors Guild is willing to continue the expensive litigation. The appeals court’s decision to decertify the class action likely crushes the Guild’s hopes of a big settlement payoff.

Link to the rest at Paid Content

How Amazon’s Rising Headwaters Could Threaten Google

20 May 2013

From ReadWrite:

From the earliest days, it was clear to me (and a few others, obviously) that Amazon was no ordinary company, at any level. However, three attributes set it (far) apart in my mind:

  1. Vision and ambition that were orders of magnitude beyond those of others team that I encountered (until, that is, I met Google);
  2. A cult-like dedication to customer experience/satisfaction that permeated every decision made by every person at the company; and,
  3. A business model that not only valued long-term cash flow and absolute profit potential, but also deemed near-term profits and profit margin largely irrelevant.

Individually, these characteristics have been powerful; in combination, they have been revolutionary. Jeff Bezos’ worldview gave his entire team permission — in fact, it gave them the mandate — to think Big, with a capital “B.” Customers’ pure delight with every Amazon interaction gave the company permission to sell (almost) anything to (almost) anyone.

And, finally, management’s clarity of financial intent (i.e., to perpetually focus on long-term potential) has, from day one, conditioned shareholders and Wall Street to expect a business that will forever be amorphous and unpredictable, with razor-thin margins.

. . . .

Liberated from more typical corporate constraints, Amazon has evolved like few other companies in history — from its humble origins as an online bookstore into: Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute, Amazon Marketplace, Amazon Flexible Payments Service, state-of-the-art warehouses (~70) everywhere, Amazon Cloud Player, AmazonFresh, Amazon Mechanical Turk, Amazon Prime, A9, Amazon Simple Storage Service,, Silk, Amazon Cloud Drive, Zappos, Amazon CloudFront, Kindle, and so on.

Sound familiar? It should, because this transformation mirrors that of Google, itself, which began as “just” a search engine company focused on “organizing the world’s information,” and has now become: Gmail, Maps, Apps, Drive, Chrome, Android, Motorola, YouTube, Wallet, Voice, Google Cloud Storage, Shopping, Chromebook, Google App Engine, Google+, and so on.

While not perfectly matching each other solution-for-solution, Amazon and Google now find themselves overlapping across, and competing within, most major categories of Internet-fueled technology and business.

. . . .

I actually think there’s one final aspect to Amazon’s business with which Google cannot (yet) directly compete, and which may prove to be the difference-maker in this faux-ish battle: Data.

With 17+ years of history and hundreds of millions of transactions across almost every category of goods, Amazon now has massive quantities of data about the actual buying habits of tens, if not hundreds, of millions of consumers around the globe.

. . . .

Armed with this unique transaction- and SKU-specific data, at scale, has the potential to become one of, if not the most signficant advertising platforms in the world, in my view — matching, if not besting, Google.

. . . .

For instance, do you think Volvo, Toyota, Lexus, Ford, et al., might be willing to pay a small fortune to be introduced to an individual in Huntington Beach, CA, who suddenly begins buying newborn diapers by the pallet? What about Gymboree? Gerbers? Whole Foods? Safeway? Fab? Gap? Pottery Barn? Ross? Home Depot?

Link to the rest at ReadWrite

Barnes & Noble’s Nook Tablet Looks Like It’s In More Trouble Than Ever

6 May 2013

From Business Insider:

Barnes & Noble got a lot of buzz a few days ago when it released a big new software update for its Nook HD tablet.

The software update adds the Google Play store, which is the online shop for Android phones where Google sells apps, music, movies, magazines, etc. That makes the Nook update a great deal for Nook owners. They now have access to much more content than they did through Barnes & Noble’s own limited app and content store.

. . . .

But it’s also a bad sign for Barnes & Noble, which is still working through the uneasy transition from physical bookstore to hardware manufacturer and seller of online goods and services.

. . . .

[At first], instead of using Google’s services and apps, Barnes & Noble tried to create its own Nook-branded ecosystem.

It didn’t really work. The first Nook tablet didn’t have an online store for buying music, movies, TV shows, etc. You could load content from other sources using a SD card or plugging the Nook into your computer, but that was hardly as convenient as directly downloading stuff like you could with the Kindle Fire. The Nook HD, which launched last fall, was Barnes & Noble’s first device to finally include a way to directly download some of that content, but the selection wasn’t nearly as good as Amazon’s.

. . . .

Barnes & Noble’s Nook division continued to collapse, with digital content and device sales down 26%, according to the company’s last earnings report.
Like Amazon, Barnes & Noble’s strategy was to sell its devices for super cheap –– the Nook HD now starts at $149 –– and lock users into an app and content ecosystem. The new Nook update essentially turns the Nook into just another bargain Android tablet packed with Google’s services and content, and that’s really bad news for Barnes & Noble if it wants to continue selling its own digital content on its own hardware.

Barnes & Noble won’t make a penny off stuff people buy through Google Play; all that revenue goes through Google instead.

. . . .

It’s a major Catch 22 for the Nook business. Either offer the best stuff through Google Play and miss out on revenue from digital content, or risk losing customers to Amazon because the Kindle Fire offers more content and apps for about the same price.

Link to the rest at Business Insider

PG recently read another article about Nook which stated Nook has about 25% of the ebook market. As PG recalls, this is a number that Barnes & Noble puts out. He believes this vastly overstates Nook’s real market share.

iPad’s grip on UK tablet market slips, but don’t hit the panic button just yet

20 April 2013

From TechRadar.Tablets:

The iPad’s share of the UK tablet market has fallen from 73 per cent to 63 per cent in the last twelve months, according to figures published by YouGov.

The Tablet Tracker show a leap in the ownership of Android tablets, mainly through the cheaper Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire, while Samsung also made significant gains at the end of Q1 2013.

The Google Nexus 7, which went on sale for just £159 last year, has amassed 8 per cent of the total UK market, while Amazon’s cheap Android tablets accounted for 5 per cent of all sales.

Meanwhile, Samsung jumped from a 4 per cent to a 10 per cent share.

. . . .

The YouGov report says the fall of Apple’s tablet overlordship comes despite the launch of the iPad mini and fourth-generation iPad at the back end of last year.

Link to the rest at TechRadar.Tablets

Google sold Frommer’s Travel — but kept all the social media data

10 April 2013

From Paid Content:

Mystery solved. Many were scratching their heads over why Google sold Frommer’s Travel Guides this month — less than a year after buying the brand for $22 million. The answer is the same as for why Google does nearly anything: data.

As Skift reported Tuesday, Google handed over the company to founder Arthur Frommer sans social media accounts. In other words, Google is keeping all of the followers that Frommer’s accrued on Twitter, Facebook, FourSquare, Google+, YouTube and Pinterest. These thousands — or more likely millions — of accounts are valuable because they represent a huge collection of serious travel enthusiasts.

While Google will not keep the Frommer’s name, it’s able to keep the followers by simply changing the name on the account; in the case of Twitter, all of the @FrommersTravel followers are now following Google-owned @ZagatTravel.

. . . .

In response to a question about the social media accounts and the price of the sale, Google provided this response:

We’re focused on providing high-quality local information to help people quickly discover and share great places, like a nearby restaurant or the perfect vacation destination. That’s why we’ve spent the last several months integrating the travel content we acquired from Wiley into Google+ Local and our other Google services. We can confirm that we have returned the Frommer’s brand to its founder and are licensing certain travel content to him.

Link to the rest at Paid Content

PG thinks this is a data point about how much value Google discovered in the traditional publishing side of Frommer’s — very little. The customers were worth more than the content even though Frommer guides are published in hard copy and ebook forms.

Google finds value in places that others do not. However, if PG is right, this raises an interesting question about where the true value of an author resides. Are the author’s readers, Twitter followers, blog visitors, etc., worth more than the author’s books, especially if the author’s readers represent a huge collection of serious enthusiasts about some subject?

PG has often said the best parts of this blog are the comments. If PG thinks about the value of The Passive Voice (no, it’s not for sale nor does PG think it ever will be), he believes the most valuable part of TPV is the people who come here, particularly those who share their opinions.

Just sayin’.

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