Yesterday, Salon ran an interview with Robert Levine, the author of a new book about digital piracy. In the interview, Levine argued that digital technologies have contributed to the collapse of the culture industry, including publishing. Levine noted that Google relies on traditional media to provide the content its search engines index, but that Google makes that content available in a way that benefits Google, not necessarily the content producer.
This is an issue that has affected me in multiple ways, some good and some bad. On the positive side, Google's Book Search has made an enormous amount of previously-inaccessible content available. The work they have done digitizing rare volumes and public domain material is invaluable. But at the same time, Google, in concert with my various publishers, has made available much of the content of my books, for which I receive nothing. Nor was my permission ever asked. Google receives page views and sells advertisements, and the publishers receive a share of the revenue generated through book searches. While theoretically some of the money is supposed to trickle down to the author, I have received a grand total of zilch. Worse, because Book Search makes available only around 20 percent of each book, those readers who encounter my work only through Google Book Search (an increasing percentage of readers, to judge by my email) often come away with mistaken impressions of what I have written because they see only part of a train of thought.
Of course I don't expect everyone who wants to read or consult my books to run out and buy a copy, but Google Book Search has also reduced demand for library copies, further eroding my ability to make money from my books. And without money, it becomes more difficult to write more books.
Then, of course, there is the piracy problem. My 2009 anthology A Hideous Bit of Morbidity, for example, was pirated on Chinese-run book piracy blogs within minutes of its e-book release. Thousands of websites offered free copies (and still do, despite take-down requests), and the book was downloaded illegally thousands of times. If even a fraction of those readers had purchased legal copies of the book or e-book, the profits would easily have paid for the research needed for my next book.
As it is, the decline in publishing, due both to the stresses of electronic intervention and ever-increasing competition from other media outlets, is inexorably turning publishing into a hobby for all but the top few writers. This is a loss for everyone involved.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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