Saturday, April 23, 2011

Today is World Book Day. Six Reasons Why Google Books Failed

Today is World Book Day. It feels nice. I would like to remember all the books I have read, the characters I have read about, forgotten now, or, well, almost. Meanwhile, the New York Review of Books lists six reasons why Google Books failed here. Excerpts:

First, Google abandoned its original plan to digitize books in order to provide online searching. (They scanned the books instead.)

Authors of out-of-print books who failed to notify Google of their refusal to participate in its project were deemed to have accepted it. (This sounds arbitrary.)

Third, in setting terms for the digitization of orphan books—copyrighted works whose rights holders are not known—the settlement eliminated the possibility of competition.

Foreign rights holders objected that the digitization of their books would violate international copyright law, particularly in the case of out-of-print books, which Google proposed to market unless it received opt-out notification from the authors or their estates.

Fifth, the settlement was an attempt to resolve a class action suit, but the plaintiffs did not adequately represent the class to which they belonged. The Authors Guild has 8,000 members but the number of living writers who have published works during the last half century probably amounts to far more than one hundred thousand.

Sixth, in the course of administering its sales, both of individual books and of access to its data base by means of institutional subscriptions, Google might abuse readers' privacy by accumulating information about their behavior.

All very valid points these. I guess the project was doomed from the beginning. Let me tell you why. There is an important lesson to be learnt here.

Till now businesses were run with the sole purpose of serving customers, giving them service. The business that gave the best service always survived because they had loyal customers. Read The IBM Way for this. Why did IBM survive inspite of all odds? They gave service. Likewise, why is Walmart so popular? It gives service. Why are the best cars so popular? They give good service. Why are Japanese products selling so well? Because they have a culture of good service.

Look at the new economics that are sweeping like a typhoon across business organisations. These days none of the new internet start-ups believe in giving service, including Google. If you want to complain, you will be taken to a page with a list of questions (called FAQs) and told to fend for yourselves. In effect, it is saying, "You have a problem? You search it out here. We won't spoonfeed you." However, this is the big mistake they are making. A customer likes to be spoonfed because a customer expects it. Somebody famously said, "The customer is your wife." She understands nothing of the modern world and you have to explain things to her and do it for her. For all you know your customer may be short sighted, handicapped, old and infirm, anything.

Go to any customer support of telecom companies. I have blogged about this often. You will hear canned music, their sales pitches, and a hundred and one options. But not a single live voice will talk to you and understand your problem. So when a hearing-impaired person calls what happens? He quits in frustration. Don't forget that he is a customer.

The world of technology has taken a big leap from analog to digital. However, it hasn't resolved the issue of servicing its customers. In other words it hasn't found a solution to the problem of keeping the huge database of its customers in a happy state and coming back. A disgruntled customer is a bad thing for business. In case of Google Books the authors and their estates were customers. So were the readers of the books. In effect Google didn't see or enlist authors as its customers or client base.

Okay, okay, I won't make it out to be a laundry list of problems but the problem out there is: how to give service for your digital online products. Any ideas?

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