The Publishing Industry Should Have Learned from the RIAA

Just as the Recording Industry Association of America sued Napter in the late 1990’s, we now have the book publishers suing Google (GOOG) over digital book cataloging. The big point that the RIAA missed many years ago was that technology was changing the way people learn about, access, and listen to music.

CD sales have crumbled and the iPod has been invented. That’s quite a shift in 6 or 7 years. Had the RIAA adjusted to the shift back then, perhaps they could have better insulated themselves from the sales hit they have taken as traffic in Best Buy’s music aisles continues to diminish.

In hindsight, the RIAA should not have cared if they got their cut from the sale of a CD or the download of an album online. Unfortunately, those executives spent too much time huddled with their lawyers, and not in meetings figured out how to change with the times. With the success of iTunes, the recording industry is doing okay (online sales net them less money than a retail CD sale), but I’m sure they are still miffed at the digital revolution, and continue to spend time suing college students for illegal downloads.

It appears the publishing industry is going to follow the same lead, as seen from its lawsuit against Google for scanning copyrighted material. If we simply looked at the publishers’ reaction to the launch of Google Print, you would think Google is taking books, scanning them, and posting them on the Internet for everybody to read for free. The funny part is they are doing nothing of the sort.

Google is organizing book titles and creating an online reference tool for searching the world’s vast array of published works. Think of it as a digital card catalog, but rather than just your local library’s collection, it encompasses (or more accurately strives to one day encompass) every book ever written.

Does this mean that readers will be able to read books without buying them, thereby hurting the profits at the major publishing companies? Not at all. What it does mean is that people will have better access to the world’s books, and therefore will be more likely to find a work they want to read (and therefore, buy).