The End of Books as We Know Them?

Stacked Book Poetry
Tarik Adnan Moon

Amid distractions like cafés that actually take Board Plus and the cute guy in the carrel across from you, it's easy to forget that the purpose of Harvard's many libraries is to house books...lots of books. Harvard is home to the largest academic library system in the nation, consisting of over 15.8 million volumes.

The Association of American Publishers and Google recently solidified a deal allowing publishers to determine whether their works can be included in Google's Library Project. Out of 15 million potential works to be scanned and uploaded for public use, nearly one million will be from Harvard's own collections. Digital books are a relatively recent phenomenon that have publishers up in arms and some bookstores going out of business. Flyby weighs the pros and cons of having such easily accessible texts.

PROS:

Convenience. Why go check a book out of the library if it's a Google search away?

Accessibility. Many rare and out-of-print books will now be made accessible to the public.

Reliability. Because Wikipedia might not always have the right facts, but a published book probably will.

Affordability. Books are expensive, and shiny e-readers are even pricier; much of the Google Library Project is free. (Certain books can be sold or borrowed in their entirety for a small fee.)

CONS:

It's Google. This isn't a con for us so much as for other booksellers. Companies such as Amazon are concerned that with so many publishers complying, Google's overwhelming ubiquity will bring them to bankruptcy. As we saw with the recent Apple Maps debacle, Google just does it better.

We like libraries. After all, one of the three obligatory Harvard acts takes places in a library. Amiright?

Will publishers even be necessary? If the concept of a "book" is transformed from bound paper to a PDF, then what becomes of Penguin Group and Random House? According to the "Wall Street Journal," book sales are steadily decreasing as e-book sales rise. We're no economists, the fact that e-books are far cheaper than printed books means this can't be good for the print industry as a whole.

Validity and Quality. If publishers are no longer needed to print books, then can't anyone theoretically print their book and upload it online? This could potentially challenge the validity of legitimate sources, not to mention spur an influx of thousands of people with an internet connection who think they're the next J.K. Rowling.

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