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Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us

12 May 2017

From The New York Times:

A few weeks ago, I bought a new television. When the whole process was over, I realized something incredible: To navigate all of the niggling details surrounding this one commercial transaction — figuring out what to buy, which accessories I needed, how and where to install it, and whom to hire to do so — I had dealt with only a single ubiquitous corporation: Amazon.

It wasn’t just the TV. As I began combing through other recent household decisions, I found that in 2016, nearly 10 percent of my household’s commercial transactions flowed through the Seattle retailer, more by far than any other company my family dealt with. What’s more, with its Echos, Fire TV devices, audiobooks, movies and TV shows, Amazon has become, for my family, more than a mere store. It is my confessor, my keeper of lists, a provider of food and culture, an entertainer and educator and handmaiden to my children.

. . . .

This is the most glaring and underappreciated fact of internet-age capitalism: We are, all of us, in inescapable thrall to one of the handful of American technology companies that now dominate much of the global economy. I speak, of course, of my old friends the Frightful Five: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google.

The five are among the most valuable companies on the planet, collectively worth trillions.

. . . .

 [L]ast week I came up with a fun game: If an evil, tech-phobic monarch forced you to abandon each of the Frightful Five, in which order would you do so, and how much would your life deteriorate as a result?

. . . .

When I went through the thought experiment, I found that dropping the first couple of tech giants was pretty easy — but after that the process became progressively more unbearable. For me, Facebook was the first to go. I tend to socialize online using Twitter, Apple’s messaging system, and Slack, the office-chat app, so losing Mark Zuckerberg’s popular service (and its subsidiaries, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger) was not such a big deal.

Next, for me, was Microsoft, which I found slightly more difficult to quit. I don’t normally use any Windows devices, but Microsoft’s word-processing program, Word, is an essential tool for me, and I’d hate to lose it.

In third place, full of regrets: Apple. There’s nothing I use more than my iPhone, and close behind are my MacBook and iMac 5K, which may be the best computer I’ve ever owned. Abandoning Apple would prompt deep and truly annoying rearrangements in my life, including braving Samsung’s bad software. But I could do it, grudgingly.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

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Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria

27 April 2017

From The Atlantic:

You were going to get one-click access to the full text of nearly every book that’s ever been published. Books still in print you’d have to pay for, but everything else—a collection slated to grow larger than the holdings at the Library of Congress, Harvard, the University of Michigan, at any of the great national libraries of Europe—would have been available for free at terminals that were going to be placed in every local library that wanted one.

At the terminal you were going to be able to search tens of millions of books and read every page of any book you found. You’d be able to highlight passages and make annotations and share them; for the first time, you’d be able to pinpoint an idea somewhere inside the vastness of the printed record, and send somebody straight to it with a link. Books would become as instantly available, searchable, copy-pasteable—as alive in the digital world—as web pages.

It was to be the realization of a long-held dream. “The universal library has been talked about for millennia,” Richard Ovenden, the head of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, has said. “It was possible to think in the Renaissance that you might be able to amass the whole of published knowledge in a single room or a single institution.” In the spring of 2011, it seemed we’d amassed it in a terminal small enough to fit on a desk.

“This is a watershed event and can serve as a catalyst for the reinvention of education, research, and intellectual life,” one eager observer wrote at the time.On March 22 of that year, however, the legal agreement that would have unlocked a century’s worth of books and peppered the country with access terminals to a universal library was rejected under Rule 23(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.When the library at Alexandria burned it was said to be an “international catastrophe.” When the most significant humanities project of our time was dismantled in court, the scholars, archivists, and librarians who’d had a hand in its undoing breathed a sigh of relief, for they believed, at the time, that they had narrowly averted disaster.

. . . .

Google’s secret effort to scan every book in the world, codenamed “Project Ocean,” began in earnest in 2002 when Larry Page and Marissa Mayer sat down in the office together with a 300-page book and a metronome. Page wanted to know how long it would take to scan more than a hundred-million books, so he started with one that was lying around. Using the metronome to keep a steady pace, he and Mayer paged through the book cover-to-cover. It took them 40 minutes.

Page had always wanted to digitize books. Way back in 1996, the student project that eventually became Google—a “crawler” that would ingest documents and rank them for relevance against a user’s query—was actually conceived as part of an effort “to develop the enabling technologies for a single, integrated and universal digital library.” The idea was that in the future, once all books were digitized, you’d be able to map the citations among them, see which books got cited the most, and use that data to give better search results to library patrons. But books still lived mostly on paper. Page and his research partner, Sergey Brin, developed their popularity-contest-by-citation idea using pages from the World Wide Web.
By 2002, it seemed to Page like the time might be ripe to come back to books. With that 40-minute number in mind, he approached the University of Michigan, his alma mater and a world leader in book scanning, to find out what the state of the art in mass digitization looked like. Michigan told Page that at the current pace, digitizing their entire collection—7 million volumes—was going to take about a thousand years. Page, who’d by now given the problem some thought, replied that he thought Google could do it in six.. . . .He offered the library a deal: You let us borrow all your books, he said, and we’ll scan them for you. You’ll end up with a digital copy of every volume in your collection, and Google will end up with access to one of the great untapped troves of data left in the world. Brin put Google’s lust for library books this way: “You have thousands of years of human knowledge, and probably the highest-quality knowledge is captured in books.” What if you could feed all the knowledge that’s locked up on paper to a search engine?

By 2004, Google had started scanning. In just over a decade, after making deals with Michigan, Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, the New York Public Library, and dozens of other library systems, the company, outpacing Page’s prediction, had scanned about 25 million books. It cost them an estimated $400 million. It was a feat not just of technology but of logistics.

. . . .

The stations—which didn’t so much scan as photograph books—had been custom-built by Google from the sheet metal up. Each one could digitize books at a rate of 1,000 pages per hour. The book would lie in a specially designed motorized cradle that would adjust to the spine, locking it in place. Above, there was an array of lights and at least $1,000 worth of optics, including four cameras, two pointed at each half of the book, and a range-finding LIDAR that overlaid a three-dimensional laser grid on the book’s surface to capture the curvature of the paper. The human operator would turn pages by hand—no machine could be as quick and gentle—and fire the cameras by pressing a foot pedal, as though playing at a strange piano.

What made the system so efficient is that it left so much of the work to software. Rather than make sure that each page was aligned perfectly, and flattened, before taking a photo, which was a major source of delays in traditional book-scanning systems, cruder images of curved pages were fed to de-warping algorithms, which used the LIDAR data along with some clever mathematics to artificially bend the text back into straight lines.

. . . .

In August 2010, Google put out a blog post announcing that there were 129,864,880 books in the world. The company said they were going to scan them all.

Of course, it didn’t quite turn out that way. This particular moonshot fell about a hundred-million books short of the moon. What happened was complicated but how it started was simple: Google did that thing where you ask for forgiveness rather than permission, and forgiveness was not forthcoming. Upon hearing that Google was taking millions of books out of libraries, scanning them, and returning them as if nothing had happened, authors and publishers filed suit against the company, alleging, as the authors put it simply in their initial complaint, “massive copyright infringement.”

. . . .

As Tim Wu pointed out in a 2003 law review article, what usually becomes of these battles—what happened with piano rolls, with records, with radio, and with cable—isn’t that copyright holders squash the new technology. Instead, they cut a deal and start making money from it. Often this takes the form of a “compulsory license” in which, for example, musicians are required to license their work to the piano-roll maker, but in exchange, the piano-roll maker has to pay a fixed fee, say two cents per song, for every roll they produce. Musicians get a new stream of income, and the public gets to hear their favorite songs on the player piano. “History has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests,” Wu writes.

But even if everyone typically ends up ahead, each new cycle starts with rightsholders fearful they’re being displaced by the new technology. When the VCR came out, film executives lashed out. “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone,” Jack Valenti, then the president of the MPAA, testified before Congress. The major studios sued Sony, arguing that with the VCR, the company was trying to build an entire business on intellectual property theft. But Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc. became famous for its holding that as long as a copying device was capable of “substantial noninfringing uses”—like someone watching home movies—its makers couldn’t be held liable for copyright infringement.

The Sony case forced the movie industry to accept the existence of VCRs. Not long after, they began to see the device as an opportunity. “The VCR turned out to be one of the most lucrative inventions—for movie producers as well as hardware manufacturers—since movie projectors,” one commentator put it in 2000.
It only took a couple of years for the authors and publishers who sued Google to realize that there was enough middle ground to make everyone happy. This was especially true when you focused on the back catalog, on out-of-print works, instead of books still on store shelves. Once you made that distinction, it was possible to see the whole project in a different light. Maybe Google wasn’t plundering anyone’s work. Maybe they were giving it a new life. Google Books could turn out to be for out-of-print books what the VCR had been for movies out of the theater.If that was true, you wouldn’t actually want to stop Google from scanning out-of-print books—you’d want to encourage it. In fact, you’d want them to go beyond just showing snippets to actually selling those books as digital downloads.. . . .

Those who had been at the table crafting the agreement had expected some resistance, but not the “parade of horribles,” as Sarnoff described it, that they eventually saw. The objections came in many flavors, but they all started with the sense that the settlement was handing to Google, and Google alone, an awesome power. “Did we want the greatest library that would ever exist to be in the hands of one giant corporation, which could really charge almost anything it wanted for access to it?”, Robert Darnton, then president of Harvard’s library, has said.

Darnton had initially been supportive of Google’s scanning project, but the settlement made him wary. The scenario he and many others feared was that the same thing that had happened to the academic journal market would happen to the Google Books database. The price would be fair at first, but once libraries and universities became dependent on the subscription, the price would rise and rise until it began to rival the usurious rates that journals were charging, where for instance by 2011 a yearly subscription to the Journal of Comparative Neurology could cost as much as $25,910.Although academics and library enthusiasts like Darnton were thrilled by the prospect of opening up out-of-print books, they saw the settlement as a kind of deal with the devil. Yes, it would create the greatest library there’s ever been—but at the expense of creating perhaps the largest bookstore, too, run by what they saw as a powerful monopolist. In their view, there had to be a better way to unlock all those books. “Indeed, most elements of the GBS settlement would seem to be in the public interest, except for the fact that the settlement restricts the benefits of the deal to Google,” the Berkeley law professor Pamela Samuelson wrote.

Link to the rest at The Atlantic and thanks to Valerie for the tip.

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How Google Book Search Got Lost

12 April 2017

From Backchannel:

Books can do anything. As Franz Kafka once said, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

It was Kafka, wasn’t it? Google confirms this. But where did he say it? Google offers links to some quotation websites, but they’re generally unreliable. (They misattribute everything, usually to Mark Twain.)

To answer such questions, you need Google Book Search, the tool that magically scours the texts of millions of digitized volumes. Just find the little “more” tab at the top of the Google results page — it’s right past Images, Videos, and News. Then click on it, find “Books,” and click on that.

. . . .

It turns out that the “frozen sea” quote is from Kafka’s Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors, in a missive to Oskar Pollak, dated January 27, 1904.

. . . .

Google Book Search is amazing that way. When it started almost 15 years ago, it also seemed impossibly ambitious: An upstart tech company that had just tamed and organized the vast informational jungle of the web would now extend the reach of its search box into the offline world. By scanning millions of printed books from the libraries with which it partnered, it would import the entire body of pre-internet writing into its database.

“You have thousands of years of human knowledge, and probably the highest-quality knowledge is captured in books,” Google cofounder Sergey Brin told The New Yorker at the time. “So not having that — it’s just too big an omission.”

. . . .

Today, Google is known for its moonshot culture, its willingness to take on gigantic challenges at global scale. Books was, by general agreement of veteran Googlers, the company’s first lunar mission. Scan All The Books!

In its youth, Google Books inspired the world with a vision of a “library of utopia” that would extend online convenience to offline wisdom. At the time it seemed like a singularity for the written word: We’d upload all those pages into the ether, and they would somehow produce a phase-shift in human awareness. Instead, Google Books has settled into a quiet middle age of sourcing quotes and serving up snippets of text from the 25 million-plus tomes in its database.

Google employees maintain that’s all they ever intended to achieve. Maybe so. But they sure got everyone else’s hopes up.

. . . .

When I started work on this story, I feared at first that Books no longer existed as a discrete part of the Google organization — that Google had actually shut the project down. As with many aspects of Google, there’s always been some secrecy around Google Books, but this time, when I started asking questions, it closed up like a startled turtle. For weeks there didn’t seem to be anyone around or available who could or would speak to the current state of the Books effort.

The Google Books “History” page trails off in 2007, and its blog stopped updating in 2012, after which it got folded into the main Google Search blog, where information about Books is nearly impossible to find. As a functioning and useful service, Google Books remained a going concern. But as a living project, with plans and announcements and institutional visibility, it seemed to have pulled a vanishing act. All of which felt weird, given the legal victory it had finally won.

When I talked to alumni of the project who’d left Google, several mentioned that they suspected the company had stopped scanning books. Eventually, I learned that there are, indeed, still some Googlers working on Book Search, and they’re still adding new books, though at a significantly slower pacethan at the project’s peak around 2010–11.

. . . .

LED lighting, not widely available at the project’s start, has helped. So has studying more efficient techniques for human operators to flip pages. “It’s almost like finger-picking on a guitar,” Jaskiewicz says. “So we find people who have great ways of turning pages — where is the thumb and that kind of stuff.”

. . . .

Like many tech-friendly bibliophiles, Sloan says he uses Google Books a lot, but is sad that it isn’t continuing to evolve and amaze us. “I wish it was a big glittering beautiful useful thing that was growing and getting more interesting all the time,” he says. He also wonders: We know Google can’t legally make its millions of books available for anyone to read in full — but what if it made them available for machines to read?

Machine-learning tools that analyze texts in new ways are advancing quickly today, Sloan notes, and “the culture around it has a real Homebrew Computer Club or early web feel to it right now.” But to progress, researchers need big troves of data to feed their programs.

“If Google could find a way to take that corpus, sliced and diced by genre, topic, time period, all the ways you can divide it, and make that available to machine-learning researchers and hobbyists at universities and out in the wild, I’ll bet there’s some really interesting work that could come out of that. Nobody knows what,” Sloan says. He assumes Google is already doing this internally. Jaskiewicz and others at Google would not say.

Link to the rest at Backchannel

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Employee Sues Google Over Strict Privacy Rules

22 December 2016

From PC Magazine:

Google’s “don’t be evil” mantra apparently doesn’t apply to the confidentiality agreements it requires its employees to sign, according to a lawsuit against the tech giant filed by one of its employees.

The suit, filed Tuesday in California Superior Court, describes a system of tight control over what Google employees can say about their employer, The Information reported. Rules prohibit employees from writing about potential illegal activity within the company, and even from writing works of fiction based on their experiences there.

Besides being uncomfortably Big Brother-ish, the policies also violate California labor laws, the lawsuit alleges.

“The unnecessary and inappropriate breadth of the policies are intended to control Google’s former and current employees, limit competition, infringe on constitutional rights, and prevent the disclosure and reporting of misconduct,” according to the lawsuit.

. . . .

“We will defend this suit vigorously because it’s baseless,” a [Google] spokesperson told The Verge. “We’re very committed to an open internal culture, which means we frequently share with employees details of product launches and confidential business information. Transparency is a huge part of our culture. Our employee confidentiality requirements are designed to protect proprietary business information, while not preventing employees from disclosing information about terms and conditions of employment, or workplace concerns.”

Link to the rest at PC Magazine and thanks to Deb for the tip.

PG is not familiar with the lawsuit in questions and hasn’t seen the Google employee confidentiality agreement. However, he will observe that corporate legal departments can attract individuals who are prone to overreach.

Additionally, standard corporate documents inevitably seem to grow and almost never shrink. As unusual circumstances arise which may not be clearly addressed in the contract, the solution is always to add a paragraph or a section.

Attorneys who are too close to such documents are sometimes incapable of pulling back to consider whether a document has, in its totality, become unreasonable.

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Google Books will now make better suggestions on what to read next

22 September 2016

From TechCrunch:

Google today is launching a new feature for Google Books which aims to offer a better challenge to Amazon’s Kindle app when it comes to helping you find new things to read. Called “Discover,” this new section in the Google Books application will help point users to new content, including both personalized suggestions as well as other recommendations based on what’s currently popular with the wider community.

Amazon, of course, has historically offered personalized recommendations in Kindle’s software as well as across its website. In its Kindle app, Amazon highlights books you may want to read based on your prior shopping history.

Google Books’ recommendations will work much in the same way. The company says it will offer up new stories based on what you read on Google Books. However, it will also automatically suggest books that are mentioned in an article or mentioned in a video you watch, elsewhere in the app – like in the new “Weekly Highlights” section.

. . . .

For comparison’s sake, Amazon’s “Book Browser” is the primary way Kindle mobile app users would find new content, but it’s more of a categorical listing of books. For example, beyond the suggestions powered by your shopping history, the app may showcase things like “Books with Narration,” or “Trending Now” selections, but not much more. Other book categories are found at the bottom of the screen, but only as standard navigation.

Meanwhile, Amazon has largely failed to capitalize on its Goodreads acquisition as a means of adding a more social experience when it comes to discovery and recommendations. In fact, the Kindle app’s latest update just oddly crammed a tiny “Goodreads” button on top of the “All Items” screen, so you can tap to see updates from that network.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch and thanks to Bailey for the tip.

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Why Can’t Apple and Google Sell More Ebooks?

8 June 2016

From Vearsa:

As a veteran of the digital publishing era (slightly depressing at my age) one question has persistently bothered me. It’s about the limited routes to market for publishers. It’s not, “why does Amazon have such market share?” That answer is pretty obvious – innovative, aggressive, admirable focus. Instead, we should be asking is: why Apple and Google (two of the biggest companies in the world) only sell somewhere in the region of 8% of book publishers’ eBooks?

. . . .

In 2007 and 2010 Apple released the iconic and genuinely groundbreaking iPhone and iPad devices. Heralding an era of unforeseen mobility and connectivity, these devices would immediately redefine personal communication and computing.

With an intense focus on quality and the customer experience, Apple has emerged as the premiere luxury brand in the world. They may produce fantastic hardware but in many ways they are selling a lifestyle, as evident in unprecedented consumer demands and queues, as well as socio-economic trends.

But the key here is that Apple has always been about selling hardware and devices that enable creativity and progress rather than content. Apple’s current mission statement starts with the line, “We believe that we’re on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing.” Content is important to Apple only insofar as it helps to sell and sustain hardware.

. . . .

So for Apple, there is not a compelling, core reason to sell books. They are happy to let others sell eBooks through their app store – and gain 30% commission on sales for little effort.

. . . .

Google on the other hand is the company I expect more from. Their official, oft-quoted mantra is “Do no Evil,” but it’s mission is actually stated to be “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Google’s philosophy is a world of transparency and collaboration– open source, the collective, the universal struggle for betterment and progress. As part of that mission there are now over 1.4 billion active android devices worldwide.

Yet why does more than 1 billion devices worldwide, in all socioeconomic strata and often most dominant in emerging markets, only account for 6% of publishers’ sales typically? Unlike Apple, Google does not have a compelling reason to prefer hardware over content. They do benefit greatly from Android license fees, but they generally suck when it comes to hardware (note the poor performance of the Nexus lines of phones and tablets as well as the failed Google Glass).

In actuality, their fierce defiance on the Google Book Library project and their willingness to battle for what they believe to be the necessary accessibility of humanity to knowledge and education seems to further contradict their poor bookselling performance.

. . . .

In my time in the industry I’ve come to this somewhat depressing conclusion: Neither Apple nor Google really care about books.

What I mean is that part of Amazon’s success and dominance is predicated on Jeff Bezos’ genius, his uncanny ability to see “a bookstore as a means to world domination.” In Apple and Google’s case books are a small line item for companies focused on hardware and advertising respectively.

. . . .

Ultimately, what Amazon achieved through Kindle was to give those people who are educated and have disposable income a simple entry point to e-commerce: books. Way ahead of its time, Amazon focused on gaining market share ahead of exclusivity, prestige or a higher purpose. It wanted user’s credit card details because it believed it could build a better commerce experience and value proposition on the back of loyal customers and scale.

Apple have been focused on your point of sale dollars for hardware. Google by its very DNA doesn’t generally share this aggressive, mercurial streak.

Link to the rest at Vearsa and thanks to William for the tip.

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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.

ROBIN LANDA, NEW YORK

. . . .

[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.

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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.

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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 Amazon.com 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)

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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: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20141002/06202728699/google-removes-news-snippets-complaining-publications-germany-publications-claim-its-blackmail.shtml

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