Books On-line

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Book Search, More, Better

Google recently reached a settlement with the Author's Guild and the Association of American Publishers, which will pave the way for digitization of copyrighted books for on-line use. The authors and publishers brought suits against Google in 2005, accusing the company of copyright infringement. Google wanted to digitize books for internet perusal, but the publishers had their own opinion of that: "They keep talking about doing this because it is going to be good for the world. That has never been a principle in law. They 'do no evil' except they are stealing people's property."

Google paid $125 million to settle the suit, which will cover legal fees and fund the Book Rights Registry, to be modeled after the music industry's copyright clearing house ASCAP. Google will structure a deal to put thousands of digitized books on the web. Readers will be able to access books or buy a digitized copy and publishers and authors will get some percentage of the customer fees.

Newspapers Stop Printing

Print is steadily moving on-line. The Christian Science Monitor announced yesterday that it will soon (just about) cease printing:

"in April 2009 the daily print edition of The Christian Science Monitor will shift to a 24/7 daily Web publication. This will be combined with the launch of an attractive new weekly print publication that looks behind the headlines..."

The continued cuts to newspapers is not always seen as a good thing. Some papers aren't ready to give up their print editions (with much more lucrative advertising than on-line). Instead they cut staff. Noted one commenter:

New Jersey, a petri dish of corruption, will have to make do with 40 percent fewer reporters at The Star-Ledger, one of the few remaining cops on the beat. The Los Angeles Times, which toils under Hollywood's nose, has one movie reviewer left on staff.

As everyone knows, this won't be too good for many blogs and on-line media outlets either.

And Textbooks?

The textbook publishing industry should be next to change models and offer more open content. Congress recently passed a law that helps keep textbook prices transparent to students, professors and colleges. Six states have similar laws.

In the past couple of years the textbook and learning divisions of several publishing companies have changed hands, including Houghton Mifflin in the US to Riverdeep, Thomson Learning, Worters Kewer's educational arm, and Reed Elsevier's Harcourt Education. The companies weren't adept at changing their business strategy to meet the increasingly web savvy customer base, and alternative on-line options were increasing. Although five textbook publishers have now launched CourseSmart to offer online textbooks cheaper, it's not clear that this is a burgeoning enterprise.

In addition to the "traditional" textbook model, the Christian Science Monitor mentioned in a recent article a couple of "radical" textbook alternatives. One, Connexions (, is a project of Rice University. Connexions offers Creative Commons licensed learning tools that are "non-linear modules" authored by independent authors and hosted on their site. The Connexions philosophy is based on their contention that the traditional textbook "system is broken." California State University has a site called Merlot, which I can't say I understand after spending, well, not very much time browsing through. There's also Wikibooks, and of course many professors simply write their own books from lecture notes.

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The New York Times writes: "Mourning old media's decline":

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