Google booked by judge

This morning’s Observer column.

Last week, a US judge in Manhattan made a landmark decision. As to what it means, opinions vary. Some see it as arresting the cultural progress that began with the Enlightenment; others are celebrating Judge Denny Chin’s ruling as the blocking of a predatory move by a giant corporation to control access to the world’s cultural heritage. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between…

LATER: Interesting comment by Tim O’Reilly:

I think that when we look back at the history of the e-book market one of the classic business school cases is going to be how stupid it was for publishers to sue Google. Here you have a powerful, monopolistic company, and then you have another company that comes in really as a white knight, and the publishers sued the white knight. And the thing that was wrong about this was that the publishers’ settlement basically made Google into an ineffective competitor to Amazon. It took away all of Google’s strength. It made their model like Amazon’s, in which it had no advantages.

There were some really interesting things that Google could have done like algorithmic pricing. They were talking about taking a much smaller cut of the transaction, building the marketplace in a very different way. They were talking about open standards. Google ideally should have been building a book search engine that searched all e-books where they were and not just on Google’s site. They made mistakes. If the settlement had pushed them in that way it would have been really, really interesting. But it made Google a book retailer, which they aren’t, and now we have one dominant player, and the publishers are going to really come to regret that. Apple may end up being a big player, but it’s hard to tell.

Thanks to Lorcan Dempsey for the link.