Goozamazon UP

So libraries came up with an an alternative to Google. They are working with Amazon to digitize out-of-copyright or library-owned-copyright books and sell POD copies through the megasite. Only unlike the Google library project, the libraries do all the work. And unlike Google, Amazon sells printed copies, with a kickback to the libraries that do all the work.

We’re talking about books that need no editorial work. Libraries create the digital files. The books are in the public domain. Libraries are institutions that preserve and lend books but don’t sell them. Universities that exist to promote and pass on knowledge, and yes some of them publish and sell books, but for the greater good. Not for shareholders.

Would it be possible to do something creative with Association of American University Presses? Develop some print on demand relationship with a company that focuses on printing, as Rice UP is doing. Maybe use it as a testbed for new publishing models, instead of letting Amazon use universities as a testbed for becoming a publisher – and for riding on the coattails of the good press Google got for digitizing libraries?

Somehow, seeing Amazon as the alternative to Google seems lacking in imagination. But I’d be happy to hear from libraries (and university presses, for that matter) about why this is a good idea.

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

4 thoughts on “Goozamazon UP”

  1. Those of us pursuing this option certainly don’t see Amazon as the alternative to Google; we see *libraries* as the alternative.

    Amazon (through its Booksurge affiliate) is the distribution channel for the print-on-demand books we’re creating, and yes, the publishing libraries get a revenue stream for the sale of the books. But fundamentally the libraries are doing it.

    In fact, your post describes developing “some print on demand relationship with a company that focuses on printing”, which is exactly what we’re doing with Booksurge.

    We at Emory are doing this with our own funding. We bought the Kirtas superscanner, our preservation staff are doing the scanning, and our digital programs team is doing the POD editions. Amazon itself isn’t part of the picture except, yes, we sell the books on Amazon.

    And for the record, I think this is pretty imaginative.

  2. Thanks for your perspective. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit – I guess it was the Amazon involvement that struck me, though it sounds as if you chose Booksurge as a POD printer (I’m assuming you looked at a number of alternatives) and they simply happen to be owned by Amazon.

    I do agree it’s a good and imaginative idea to pair a ditigization project with a print option – that adds value, and I think there is evidence that digital and print can have a happy synergistic existence. (U Mich has been experimenting with this, too.) It just sounded as if Amazon was getting credit for a project that was going to be entirely the work of the libraries involved. And partnering with an Amazon subsidiary when university presses are struggling for survival was another thing I was puzzling over.

    Thanks for the correction/clarification.

  3. Cornell University libraries have been working with BookSurge as well, selling print-on-demand copies of their library-scanned books. Amazon/BookSurge offers what appears to be an efficient service, with the advantage of making these titles discoverable amongst all the other works that they sell.

    I don’t know whether Michigan or Cornell approached their university presses, but I suspect that this kind of niche publishing is likely to be more about cost recovery than producing great streams of revenue, so not necessarily a means of much support to university presses. Remember that these are very much niche titles. They might sell fewer than 10 copies a year. The economics of this kind of distribution might not make sense for most university presses.

    To me, the immediate benefit is to library users — relatively quick access to a reasonably-priced print copy of a book that may otherwise be available only via ILL, in an e-edition, or through an expensive out-of-print dealer. For some users, none of those would be the right option. This strikes me as an excellent role for the library-as-publisher — to offer their rare, unique, or simply obscure titles in the ways that users want them.

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