Amazon’s ‘Search Inside the Book’ Stepping Over the Line

October 1, 2009

So, I just got wind of a disturbing headline about Amazon.com: Changes Afoot at Amazon’s Search Inside the Book? (9/11/09). It says that book publishers who want their works for sale on Amazon will soon be required to participate in this feature, and they may even be required to enroll their new titles in this program a month before publication.

In case you don’t know what this is, Search Inside the Book (SIB) is a feature at Amazon.com that permits shoppers to view the scanned pages of a printed book online prior to purchasing it.  Amazon supposedly limits the shopper’s access to a certain number of pages, but it appears that you can still pull down a good amount of a book’s contents through a simple word search.  But hell, don’t take my word for it.  Just see what they did to my last book.  As they say on the website, click on the book cover to “LOOK INSIDE!

My publisher says that this feature helps them sell books, but I still have problems with it.  On the one hand, I can see the analogy at work here: someone browsing through a book online is arguably the same as them picking it up in a brick-and-mortar store and flipping randomly through a few pages before deciding whether to buy it.  But on the other hand, it’s always been ingrained into my head that electronic publication is a specific portion of one’s copyright interest in a product.  Reproducing my work on the web is a form of publication, and I’m entitled to control electronic rights to my work and to sell them off as I wish.  Has Amazon paid me for the electronic rights to Horror Isn’t a 4-Letter Word?  Hell, no.

There are also other considerations here, marketing considerations, that make this compulsory participation in SIB objectionable, especially with works of fiction.  Sometimes, publishers wish to embargo the release of a book’s contents until a certain date.  Maybe, as in the case of recent Harry Potter books, the book is so damn hot that they’re paranoid about it leaking out on the web before they’ve had a chance to sell it.  Can you imagine the effect of a month-ahead-of-time SIB would have had on the sales of the last volume?  Probably not a good one.

Anyway, I sincerely hope that the publishing world helps Amazon to get its head out of its ass on this one.  I don’t claim to be an expert on this subject, but I’ve heard enough to feel like my fur has been stroked in the wrong direction.