It seems Google is being very careful to steer clear of picking a large fight with major publishers by only making out of copyright publications available on the website. They’ve been scouring the shelves of several libraries in the US and UK, scanning the text and sticking them online. They haven’t scanned anything more recent than the mid-19th century to avoid violating any copyright laws, anywhere.
This sounds great, but there is a bit of a hitch. You might think that downloading and printing out, say, the complete works of Shakespeare might be a fun way to spend an evening and a cheap way to get hold the master’s words, but, according to the Times:
At present home download and printer speeds, it could end up being more expensive to get hold of a free copy of a classic work.Well, that puts a hole smack bang in the middle of that theory...
An 1825 complete works of Shakespeare, found by the Google book search, runs to 908 pages and takes 56.6 megabytes of data.
Downloading the tome would take up to five minutes on a broadband fast internet link, and could take approaching an hour on a traditional dial-up connection. But the determined reader would have to endure reading the plays on a backlit screen.
Printing out, though, adds to the complexity. Using a cheap home printer working at 12 pages a minute, it would take 75 minutes to produce the entire book for bedtime reading.
The exercise could easily consume an entire ink cartridge, which costs between £35 and £40.
On Amazon it is possible to buy a paperback Complete Works of Shakespeare for £4.79.
Even though only crazy people (or those seeking to really abuse work stationery) are going to bother printing out entire books, publishers are up in arms, talking about the death of their field. Not quite yet, I’d venture.
I think it’s great. I could really have done with digital copies of some novels during my undergrad degree. Cutting and pasting quotes into essays rather than re-typing them would really have cut down needless typing in my honours thesis, and having the ability to perform word searches (looking for that half-remembered line) would have cut out tons of flicking and needless re-reading.
Now, if only digital readers would become more readable…