Google Book Search settlement will expand access

Over the last few weeks we've heard a number of questions about the Google Book Search settlement and what it means for readers. Over the coming days, we'll attempt to answer some of those questions on this blog, but first, we think it's important to explain how exactly the settlement will help expand access to books in the United States. We'd also like to remind authors and publishers who have questions that they should visit the settlement Notice website.

Have you ever gone to your local bookstore looking for a book only to be told that it’s not there? You look for it on Amazon; they don’t offer it. You go to your local library and it’s not there. But you know that it exists because you read it your freshman year in college.

Or let's say you’re a second generation American interested in reading books in your parents’ native language, Greek. Try finding more than a few books in foreign languages in most town libraries or bookstores in the United States.

Or you're a graduate student who has been doing research on your thesis for years. You think you've read every book there is to read on your topic, but then you type your query into Google Book Search, and you suddenly discover a new original book or monograph that you weren't even aware of before.

Until now, we've only been able to show these users a few snippets of text for most of the in-copyright books we've scanned through our Library Project. Since the vast majority of these books are out of print, to actually read them you have to hunt them down at a library or a used bookstore. And if you can't find them -- because the only known copy is at a library on the other side of the country--you're unfortunately out of luck.

Under the settlement that will change for users in the U.S.:
  • When you find the book you're searching for, you’ll be able to preview 20% of the book over the Internet from anywhere in the U.S. If you want to look at the whole thing, you'll be able to go down to your public library where there will be a computer station with access to the whole book for free. And if you don’t want to leave home or want a copy for yourself, you’ll be able to purchase access to an electronic copy of the book. As always, if the book is old enough to be in the public domain, you’ll be able to download the whole book for free.
  • If you’re at a university, in addition to your libraries' free access points, your school can obtain an institutional subscription that gives you access to most books that we've scanned. And scholars and students who don’t keep the same study hours as the library will be able to look at any book, anywhere, any time.

  • If you are vision impaired, the settlement will open a world of books to which you've never had access. Visually impaired people will be able to search for books through the Google Books interface and purchase, borrow, or read at a public library any of the books that are available to the general public in a format that is accessible to the vision impaired.

  • If you want to read in foreign languages, you will have access to tens of thousands of more books than you have today. Books in Spanish add up to almost 10% of the books already scanned. If you account for the difference in numbers between books in Spanish and English, the usage per book in Spanish is more than three times what it is for books in English.
The settlement won't just expand access to out-of-print books, either. Because authors and publishers will have the ability to let users preview and purchase their in-print books through Google Book Search, readers will have even more options for accessing in-print books than they have today.

For users outside the U.S., the Google Book Search experience won't change unless rightsholders specifically authorize additional uses of their books outside the United States. And while the Google Book Search settlement will only allow for improved access in the U.S., we believe that this will constitute an unprecedented test bed for the development of similar services around the world.

As the discussion continues, it's important to understand what readers stand to gain.