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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Google and the Image Problem

Have You All Been Following the Arguments Over the Google Book Settlement?

I’ve posted here about my own uncertainty about what to do — whether to agree to let Google scan OP books of mine, or whether to object. As I’ve said, the direct impact on me is likely to be small — I will neither make nor lose enough money to pay for an ice cream each for my two boys (so far none of my books are OP, but that could change in an eye blink). But I do feel there is a huge issue lurking in this whole affair that does effect all of us who — in any way — deal with nonfiction for younger readers: who pays for the rights to the images in our books, if the books become available online? We never cleared digital rights, and we are surely not going to pay extra for rights in a book that is now out of print. Publishers lose all revenue from OP books, so they won’t. Sure, Google could include print and no images, but that would rip the heart out of the books we labor to create, where text, image, caption — gathered together in design — work together to engage readers. And that leads to the interesting piece I saw yesterday. 
      CEPIC is an organization that represents image rights holders in Europe, and they came out against the Google deal. Here’s their press release: They claim that they will be squeezed by Google which will essentially give them a flat rate and a take-it-or-leave-it choice. Now in a way, that bargain would be good for authors. Google would be handling the negotiations and using its muscle to beat down image holders’ prices. But we would not have any part in that — so if one, or three, or five rights holders said no — our books would appear online as patchwork creations, half illustrated half not. And then think of the economics of this: for an in print book I might be paying $300 for a one quarter page black and white image (a price I was very recently quoted — see this essay I wrote in the current Horn Book but when that same book goes OP, the exact same image will cost little or nothing. So see the economic imbalance — in print books are very expensive, OP books very cheap. How quickly would a savvy school switch to using digital OP books, with some revision and update file to cover new material? 
     See I think the bigger issue is that we need an organization like CEPIC to make a deal with the authors of kids trade nonfiction books — books that are not textbooks, will not be adopted in classroom, and cannot take very high price tags. Let’s agree on an educational rate for all images in all media. Then we can create the kinds of books students, teachers, librarians want — in print or online — and not be punished for making the extra effort to make them as visually rich as they are engaging.