acebauer (acebauer) wrote,

Google Books (or how a Library of Congress catalogue becomes drama) [Updated]

As almost everyone in publishing has heard, the deadline for opting out of the Google Books Settlement is tomorrow. (The deadline for objections is Tuesday, Sept. 8. )

I have been thinking on and off---mostly off---about the settlement since it was first announced, figuring I really didn't need to do anything. But yesterday, with the deadline looming, I was finally curious enough to pull my head out of the sand and read a bunch of stuff to better understand my options. (A starting point for the curious would be this explanation by the Society of Children's Books Writers & Illustrators,  this one by the Author's Guild, this one by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, or this one by the National Writer's Union)

It's not a simple settlement. There are meta-problems of all kinds. But ultimately, the question for me was whether I was likely to ever have the oomph to go sue Google on my own. The answer was a resounding "No," and so I decided to stay in. I even filed a claim.

That's that, I figured.

And then I read Geoff Nunberg's report, Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck.

The laudable purpose behind Google's scanning of all those books was to provide an easily searchable database of every book published. But what if the data is wrong? Turns out that as Google input the data, they created thousands upon thousands of mistakes.

Did you know that according to Google Books, Robert Shelton's biography of Bob Dylan was published in 1899? Or that Madame Bovary was written by Henry James? Or (my absolute favorite) a biography of Mae West is listed under Religion?


So I checked my Google Books listing. Turns out my review rating ranked only one star out of 5. That's dim. But see, the review upon which they based this ranking was Kirkus's. Kirkus loved the book. They gave it a star. One star. That's all they give folks. It's considered a major honor.

What have I gotten myself into?

Update, September 29, 2009: I checked my Google Books review rating today, and it appears that sometime in the last week they fixed the rating glitch, at least as it applies to my book. I'm now listed as having five stars, which is nice---certainly better than one star out of five. But I wonder whether the Kirkus starring system really translates. After all, getting no star at all from Kirkus doesn't mean the book was bad, just that they didn't want to give it a star. Apples and oranges and all that.
Tags: news, publishing, review

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