Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
By LANA POPOVIC
After having seen Cirque du Soleil’s KA for the first time ever last week, my faith in humanity is officially restored. Any species that can occasionally yield that kind of extravagant glory might actually be worth keeping around, even if we’re largely useless the rest of the time. Yes…I’m the kind of person whose notions of human grace get reaffirmed in the most vice-riddled city in the world.
And while I was watching, I found myself distracted by stray thoughts of Google. That’s right—I have a terminal case of Appazooglitis. Not even a hydraulic wonder of a stage can stave it off for long. And why am I so aflutter with excitement? The rumor is that Google is coming out with its own tablet in the spring!
The device will run on Android ICS, and there’s speculation that it will be designed to challenge the Kindle Fire rather than the iPad. As such, the price is projected to come in at $199 or less, and the size will likely be a Fire-comparable seven-inch model. And to muddy the waters just a smidge more, the Google Nexus tablet will likely be running on Android OS 4.1, giving it an advantage over other tablets, which will still be operating on Android 4.0.
So what does this mean for Google in the American ebook market? In my last post, I wondered about Google’s future in America, and whether Google might be poised to become America’s version of Europeana. Europeana is “a single access point to millions of books, paintings, films, museum objects and archival records that have been digitised throughout Europe. It is an authoritative source of information coming from European cultural and scientific institutions.” Yeah. It’s kind of a big deal.
Why doesn’t America have an Americana, then, you might ask? Excellent question, and one that we should all be asking Congress, whose failure to reassess the limitations imposed by the more draconian aspect of US copyright law has effectively killed the Google Books project. The Constitution grants Congress exclusive dominion over copyright by way of the Copyright Clause, soooo…it’s not like someone else can do it. Congress hasn’t tinkered with copyright since the Sonny Bono Act of 1998 (pejoratively known as the Mickey Mouse Protection Act, in honor of Disney’s lobbying efforts to extend copyright), and the trend has always been to lengthen the terms rather than shorten them, or otherwise make them more appropriate to the digital age.
So, should we abandon all hope for an American repository of cultural largesse? Maybe not—Americans have already begun using Google services as just such a public resource. According to Edward Nawotka of the excellent Publishing Perspectives blog, “In my house, we use Google Books as our de-facto cookbook shelf, a source of classic literature for our children, and as a general reference library.”
So even though the Google Books project might have stalled out, Google is still an invaluable resource, offering a wealth of previously inaccessible content, including things like full-color PDFs of books dating back to the 1400s. With the help of a dedicated tablet, I feel like Google’s about to take hipster bar talk to a whole new level. “So, what are you reading these days? Me, I’ve kinda been into Galileo’s landmark treatise challenging Ptolematic geocentrism. You know…IN THE ORIGINAL.”
Is Google the only one we can look to for an American Europeana? There are alternatives, like the Digital Public Library of America—which recently announced a planned collaboration with Europeana —but the lack of resources that plagues such initiatives means that the process of scanning and compiling books and other content will proceed at the pace of chipping at a glacier with a filigreed letter opener. Plus, there’s no reason to think that the DPLA will magically avoid the legal quagmire into which the Google Books project has sunk.
With the advent of its new tablet, perhaps Google will even supplant Europeana in Europe as well, as it slowly gains traction in the international market. In December, Google opened its new headquarters in Paris, from which it will cater to southern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. And a couple weeks ago, Paris-based ActuaLitté became the first literary magazine to team up with Google Books’ online library in a non-exclusive partnership, giving readers access to millions of rights-free publications scanned by Google. Each week the magazine’s editorial team will present a selection of older books meant to echo current news topics, in order to offer literary perspective to the daily grind.
Am I the only one who thinks that would be a cool idea for the American market, too? Or that the Google tablet is a gamechanger? Google’s going places, people. For reals.