Google Books yesterday announced an important deal with major French publishing company Hachette. According to The New York Times the deal will allow Google to scan and digitize thousands of books that Hachette has published, including both more recent books and books that are out of print. Google Books will sell these digital editions in its e-book store, Google Editions.
According to PC Mag, Hachette owns a quarter of the publishing market in France, making this a significant victory for Google Books. Hachette also plans to share the digitized e-books with the French National Library to "contribute to the advancement of French culture."
The question of digitizing out-of-print books still protected by copyright (which means the majority of books) has been a major sticking point for Google Books in past negotiations. Earlier this year, US judge Denny Chin rejected a proposal that would have given Google Books the right to publish any out-of-print copyright- protected US books except those whose authors chose to opt out of the agreement.
American book publishers prefer that authors be given the right to opt-in. (Google, of course, prefers the "opt-out" option. An "opt-in" agreement may mean that many books, especially out-of-print books, will fly under the e-book radar and will not be digitized. Under an "opt-out" agreement, those under-the-radar books could be digitized en-masse.)
But under the terms of the deal with Hachette, Hachette will have the right to decide which books Google Books will be allowed to scan and sell.
In Hachette's case, Google Books saw fit to compromise and went with the opt-in option. This accord stands in marked contrast to Google's earlier experiences with French publishers, three of which – Albin Michel, Flammarion, and Gallimard – are currently suing Google, charging that the company illegally scanned their books.
In the US, Google Books is currently embroiled in an American lawsuit with publishers over this very issue, and has been ordered to reach a settlement by September 15.
Only time will tell if Google Books will take a more conciliatory stance in the US as it now has in France, but either way, the deal with Hachette marks a milestone in the world of e-book publishing.
Megan Wasson is a Monitor contributor.