More power to Google

On Thursday, Google’s latest project that will allow people to read books that have gone out of print, will go live. In partnership with On Demand Books, the Espresso Book Machine will print in 4 minutes flat, on demand, any book of upto 300 pages from a list of over 2 million books whose copyright period has expired or whose authors have given permission for them to be used by Google. All this at a cost of less than $10 to the user and $3 to the bookshop that owns the vending machine, which is to cover the cost of the materials. The machine costs a whopping $100,000 but quite a few locations already have it, including Blackwell’s in London. Here’s how it works:

I was really glad to read about this, and hope that it does not run into stormy weather like the Google Books deal has, where the US Justice Department has urged a New York court to reject this deal. Just as with the continuing debate over free, I wonder how long anyone can prevent it from coming to life. Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ is selling more e-copies on the Kindle than hard copies via Amazon, and that’s because there are enough people are willing to buy the e-version though they have access to the hard copy. If the situation is reversed and enough people decide they’d prefer to read out-of print books in the flesh rather than online, where Google Books will likely have an e-copy available, can Amazon, Microsoft and Yahoo, who are among the companies that object to the Google Books deal, continue to stand their ground? THAT will be an interesting conversation to follow.

Moving ahead

I agree that news channels, newspapers and their websites have a responsibility to tell the world what is happening. So if Yahoo! is cutting jobs by 10%, or WPP orders a hiring freeze, as well as the fact that a number of banks have either gone bust or been bailed out by the government, we will come to know whether we like it or not – or at least if we have an interest in current affairs. But whose responsibility is it to tell the public that they do not need to panic? That tomorrow will be a better day? I’m not making light of the situation – everything is not hunky-dory and we know it. But if that’s all we believe and continue to believe, will the situation ever change? If people believe that this economic depression will not let anything thrive till 2010, which is when the prediction is for markets to revive, how will new investors be motivated to invest, and new ideas have the strength to bloom and survive?

It’s not the same world today as it was back then, I know (disclaimer), but I was thinking about the situation in 1929. That was also a global crisis, exacerbated in the US but with an effect all around the world. 
I was watching a documentary by Adam Curtis a couple of weeks ago recommended by Mark, called The Century of the Self, where this exact incident is discussed. It is essentially about the dichotomy between democracy and industry based primarily on the work of Sigmund Freud, much of which can be read in his book Civilization and its Discontents, and his nephew Edward Bernays, who is one of the people credited with inventing the discipline of public relations. 
Hitler, for example, said that democracy was inefficient because it allowed human desire to run unchecked and creates chaos. When the markets crashed in 1929, Roosevelt said, with a slight echo (which is scary, but read the whole point) that laissez-faire markets could not be run by industries and needed government help, but he also said that industries are rational and that they can take part in government. 
Businesses knew that the economic situation had to change, and PR formed the basis for their campaign to revive the economy – it was called the ‘engineering of consent’, based on Bernays’ eponymous book, and however ethically wrong some people may claim it to be, the fact is that the underlying consumer desire in all of us can’t lie dormant forever. 
Right now, given the condition of the economy, there is no real awareness of the importance of advertising and PR, but the truth is that people will still want things, and that act of consumption is one of the key things that will keep this economy running. I am not talking about the deeper stock markets mess, that is not within the remit of this post and indeed not within my expertise, but yesterday as I watched the chairman on Topshop on the TV say the exact same thing about consumerism, I realised that it is a very salient point – one that deserves some recognition. Not many people are going to come out with it because of the aforementioned ethics issue, but either we all refrain from consumption till 2010, or we make small moves towards changing the world we live in. NOW. There. I said it. 

Purpling it up

Apparently I didn’t notice when Yahoo! went into severe make-over mode with their Purple scheme. They’re doing a bunch of things to make people notice them. I’m just not sure how much of it IS being noticed, unfortunately, though some of their initiatives do sound interesting:

1. They’re encouraging people to Start Wearing Purple
2.Yahoo! for Good, their community foundation, is disbursing grants to deserving people through a programme they calle Purple Acts of Kindness.
3. They’ve set up the Yahoo! Purple Photo Booth on Flickr to celebrate images of all things purple.
4. They’re selling Yahoo! Purple T-shirts on the company web-site.
5. They’re getting on with the Yahoo! Purple Pedals project where they have a camera on cycles that go around the city, that takes a picture every 60 seconds, which are then tagged and uploaded to Flickr to document the bike’s journey. This, to me, is probably the most innovative part of the whole campaign. 
It’s drawn some criticism – people saying that they’re trying to be like the iPod when they’re actually like a Mac (!!), but to be honest, it’s not all bad. As opposed to Apple and Microsoft which are, as we know, indulging in some friendly media fighting, Yahoo!’s chosen not to get involved in any competitor wrangling and is instead forging a new identity for the brand. While not a completely unique approach, I don’t think they had a choice, unless they wanted to start a Yahoo!-Google match of their own. Given that, and the fact that they actually are acquiring or coming up with decent stuff of their own (Upcoming, Flickr, Fire Eagle, Brickhouse), it’s not like they’re all smoke and no substance. For the first time, I feel that Google’s colourful branding has some competition, however small.