Saturday, March 9, 2013

Go Towards the Light

I read an interesting post today on The Legal Genealogist. And while I can understand the author's position, I have to respectfully, but completely, disagree with him.

The author, a guest writer on the blog, Craig R. Scott, CG, President of Heritage Books. (A company I LOVE and have thinned my wallet at numerous times.).

His post was apparently triggered by the FHL's recent announcement that they will now be providing free look-ups and page scans for requesting patrons. (The big news not really being the service, since the FHL has always been extremely helpful that way, but the fact that since by scanning and e-mailing the image the cost of paper and shipping are virtually eliminated, so is the cost to the patron).

But the FHL is not the only victim in his attack, he also brings in Google Books with their free snippets and any other library that heaven-forbid wants to serve and feel useful.

His concern is that this service "will harm authors and book publishers to the point where authors will not write and publishers will not publish." and that "genealogical book publishers will go the way of the gas light or the telegraph, no longer having a useful function in society having been replaced by the digital age."

That attitude will harm authors and publishers more than any snippet mentality will. Think for a moment, if we were still relying on the telegraph, do you think we would have one in every home, let alone one in the pocket of nearly everyone 10 and up? Progress did not kill telegraph companies, for those willing to adapt, it gave them a larger market. It can do the same for authors and publishers.

Snippet services, whether via Google, or through libraries are a HUGE marketing tool.

Let's start with Google Books. I can now sit down at my computer, enter a name, and within a few seconds find out that that name is listed in a book. A book that I may never have even known existed, or never had thought to look in otherwise. And even if I had known it was there, and decided to look in it, what are the chances that I would have been able to find it somewhere that I could access it to even SEE if that person or family was in the book. I'm not the type of person that's going to spend my genealogy budget on chances. But now that I know that the book has a mention of my family, no matter how brief, I want a copy of the book. And I'm going to go right back to that search engine and try to find where I can get a copy of that book so I can see what else is in it, and share it with my other family members, who will then get excited over a book that they never knew existed before either, and which they may very well want a copy of as well.

I can do the same with an area. or group of people (such as a tribe) I'm researching, or an event.

Ideally the library snippets could work the same way. But in the present model, the patron would have to know the book and ideally the page. Mr. Scott talks about the demand placed on a library to order additional copies of a book if enough people were wanting to borrow it, particularly if they were using inter-library loan to do so. It's my experience, however, that if a book was in that high of a demand, the library would simply refuse to loan it out, via inter-library loan or otherwise.

So let me toss out another scenario here. Let's say I'm a young working mother. My budget is limited, so is my time. I have a slight interest in family history. Thanks to the digital age, I can now fit research into my busy life, just a a few minutes at a time. But I still haven't done much about it. So one day, I'm at the library with my kids and something sets off a spark in me. So I sit down on the computer next to my child and start looking for books that could help me research or could tell me more about a place or event I know an ancestor was involved in. (Maybe my child's project is even a family history one and that sparks my interest too). My library, who is also limited on funds and space, doesn't have the book I want, so I put in an inter-library loan request. Even if the book is available for check-out at the other library, it takes over a week to get to me. By then my interest is elsewhere, I've got some other project taking up my time, or my kids have another project taking up my time. The book just ends up sitting there until its time to go back. (Hopefully I return it in time so the next person can get it too). My genealogy spark is lost til who knows when.

Or then there's alternate ending #2. In this scenario, instead of inter-library loan, I can put in an electronic request, telling the library that I'm interested in information about such-and-such from this book in their collection. Before I even get the kids in bed that night, I have an e-mail with the info I asked for. My spark is getting fanned, its growing bigger. I'm now feeling really excited, I'm diving in, can't wait to read about it. But then that's not enough. I want MORE. I want to read the rest of the book. Or I want to find out what other books are out there on that person, place, or event. Or maybe now I've found out that information, I start to think of someone else that I want to know more about. I'm now starving for this information. I've caught the bug, I'm addicted. And I'm going to spend the next 50+ years researching, believing in the power of books to assist that research, and teaching others about the treasures found in this often over-looked resource. Instead of waiting until the kids are grown and I'm retired to even start thinking about researching again.

Mr. Scott spoke of all the time and money authors pour into their books and the publishers invest into those books, they deserve a return. And agreed, they do. But sometimes those returns don't always come they way they think, they have to open to other forms of payment as well.

Authors are not going away. If anything, they are in even greater abundance today. No longer are writers even tied to their desks to type away on the computer, to say nothing of the painstaking ways of writing pre-computer. Now they're typing away on their phones and their tablet, whenever they have half a minute. We also have this new method of journaling/writing called blogging. And its become the cool/trendy thing to do. There are more authors now, no threat of extinction here.

And if authors aren't going away, neither are publishers.;

In fact, when it comes to genealogy books, its quite common to fall head over heels in love with an out-of-print book. Neither authors or publishers are making any money on those books. If we want a copy we have to scour the used book stores for years, set-up saved searches on e-bay and google, hoping that maybe just maybe a copy will pop-up for sale somewhere before we've given up all hope on getting it and forgotten why we were so in-love with it in the first place.

Oh, but what's that you say? The publisher has that title as a PRINT ON DEMAND! Hook me up! I'll take a copy! Actually, make it 20, I'd love to give some as gifts to my family members this Christmas.

Oh, but some of my family members live in small apartments, or they move around a lot, they don't like having a lot of books around. Oh, you could sell us digital versions of the book?!? FABULOUS! I'll take a few of those as well.

Neither is quite the same as getting an original, so the originals still retain their value for the rare book owners and sellers, but MORE money to be made for publishers and authors.

It's a win-win-win!

And oh hey! You publish on demand, tell me this, my great grandmother just died, and we found this box of journals in her attic. She has over 150 descendents and we can't seem to agree who should get them. If we were to scan them and get you a digital copy, could you print those for us too?

What? for a small fee, you'll also scan them for us so we have a better, more professional version and less hassle? SOLD!

Oh, and I've been writing this family history blog to document my research, but I'm afraid that the information is going to be lost, the site will go down, or its just getting too big that the information is hard to find, even with search engines, can you help there too? Oh you can? You can show me how to download the data, and then you'll counsel with me to better organize it into a book format that you can publish for me?  And you have editors too? Of course I'll pay for that!

Or then there's always the possibility of helping with web-publishing too.

But let's set aside personal/family/area history books for a minute and look at the how-to set of genealogy books.

Guess what else the digital age has done? It's brought us podcasts, webinars, virtual conferences. Suddenly I'm able to attend research classes from the comfort of my own home, or while sitting in the car, or in line at the dmv, on my own schedule, so whenever, wherever. I don't have to make travel plans, or take time off work, find a baby-sitter, pay expensive conference fees, or pay for hotel rooms etc.

And guess what those classes are doing for me? They're getting me excited about researching. I'm finding out about a webinar being offered on Scottih research. I have ancestry there I haven't spent much time searching out because I just don't know where to look. I think I'll tune in.

Now I want to jump in and research that area! But I'm not sure I'm ready after just one class. Or maybe I think I am, but after jumping in, have other questions.  The instructor recommended these books, maybe I should BUY them to read them. (since even IF my library had them, I don't have time to read the whole thing during their check-out period, I'm a busy working mom!)

Or maybe they didn't recommend any books, so I start searching to find some other books that might help, (or maybe I'm googling webpages that might help and come up with a book) but I don't know, will this book really help me, or will it just be a waste of money? I better not gamble my kids' college education money on it. I won't buy it. I'll see if I can find something else somewhere, or I'll just go back to not worrying about this area right now.

But WAIT, here's a snippet of the book on Google Books. Hey, that looks like a good book! I think it will help a lot. I'm going to go ahead and buy it! I want to find my ancestors! Yay! Oh look! There's another one! It looks great too! Add to cart! (and pray my kids get scholarships)

Of course free is better. We all like free. And we are definitely seeing more and more of the pay-it-forward mindset out there where people want to give things free either because they've gotten free things or because they want to get free things. And the more that's provided free, the more free is expected.

But the people who are going to be spending hours trying to figure out how to get the next page to come up on snippet so they can download it and get a free copy, are the same ones that would be copying the entire book in the library (or now checking it out and scanning it at home to save the cost of the paper).

But if you get rid of the snippets just because it may or may not make it easier for those people, then you can guarantee you've made it a whole lot harder for everyone else to even find your book, let alone decide they want to buy it.

Digital books are not the enemy to physical books. Whether the book was published digitally, or scanned after-the-fact. Sure they make it easier to take an entire library with you in less space and weight than one physical book. And digital books make it instantaneously searchable which is an incredible time-saver for research (and allows you to access more books in less time). Even when I can get an entire book copyright free, for free, there is something magical about holding books in your hand, and being able to take them places and show them to people without being limited to wi-fi, that leads me to want to buy the book.

You don't want libraries scanning your books? SCAN THEM YOURSELF. Sell the libraries your digital copies. In most cases, the digital versions have more safe-guards in place to prevent unfair use copies than actually having the book sitting there on the shelf. So save the libraries the trouble. And while you're at it, put digital versions up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or wherever. Then even without snippets, you've greatly expanded your marketplace and interested audience for next to nothing in cost. And last I checked, that equation generally results in larger profits.

Love history. But don't get so focused on what you think time will erase, that you can't see all that time can give you too. The light isn't going out, its shining brighter than ever! I hope it continues to shine on Heritage Books.