GBS: E-Book Terms Trending Toward Publishers

Motoko Rich, Publishers Win a Bout in E-Book Price Fight, N.Y. Times (Feb. 8, 2010):

Google has been talking about entering the direct e-book market, through a program it calls Google Editions, for nearly a year. But in early discussions with publishers, Google had proposed giving them a 63 percent cut of the suggested retail price, and allowing consumers to print copies of the digital books and cut and paste segments. After Apple unveiled the iPad last month, publishers indicated that Apple would give them 70 percent of the consumer price, which publishers would set.

According to several publishers who have been talking to Google, the book companies had balked at what they saw as Google’s less generous terms, and basically viewed printing and cut-and-paste as deal breakers.

Now that both Apple and Amazon have agreed to terms more to the book companies’ liking, several publishers said that their conversations with Google have taken on a more flexible tone.

These publishers, who requested anonymity because their discussions with Google are confidential, said Google had relaxed its plans to allow customers to print or cut and paste. …

In early negotiations, the 63 percent Google had been offering publishers was based on a wholesale model, but executives briefed on the discussions said that Google was now open to talking about an agency model and was also prepared to discuss paying publishers 70 percent of each sale.

That just raises further questions!

If Google Editions goes to a 70/30 revenue split, will the settlement go there, too?

If Google Editions turns off print and copy/paste, will the settlement turn it off too? (But see § 4.2(a) (Consumer Purchase” will enable purchasers to view, copy/paste and print pages of a Book” (emphasis added)); § 4.1(d))

Considering these terms are the ones large publishers are negotiating privately outside the Settlement—as it allows them to do—there is no reason whatever for the Settlement to adopt them.

The Settlement is really mostly about out-of-print works whose publishers are no longer in business to negotiate with Google. And works owned by entities too small for Google to consider worth the trouble of direct negotiation and who Google figures can’t afford to sue: Authors whose rights have reverted to them, small publishers, and micropresses. They figure they might as well sweep up a few million works for free while they are at it.