Market Power

Musings by an academic economist on the power of markets and the power over markets.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Google "Online Reading Room"

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had this AP article on Google's quest to scan collections of documents from some of the best research institutions. Of course, there's the obligatory concern about the dreaded "p" word:

"Google's ambitious effort could herald the beginning of the commercialization of libraries, which long have been trusted as an independent resource for books and knowledge without the obvious trappings of marketing or goals of profit {emphasis by Phil}.

"For the sake of wider public access, librarians and archivists are grateful and excited about Google's underwriting of the otherwise cost-prohibitive effort to scan millions of books and research materials."

"Yet they also know that Google, the world's leading Internet search engine, relies on revenue from advertisements that often are related to the search topic at hand."

It's the existence of those revenues that allows Google to do this "cost-prohibitive effort." Profits aren't bad things. They are good things that allows for this to be done in the first place!

I was puzzled by this concern:

"And the agreements that Google worked out with the research institutions are nonexclusive, which means Google's rivals, such as Yahoo or [link in the original article], might try to get access to the same material Google digitizes and use it for their own purposes.

In other words, even if Google remains true to its word to "do no evil," another search engine without the same ethics might come along."

This isn't a bad thing. Suppose some other search engine without the same ethics appears in the marketplace. If consumers care about the ethics of Google, the competitor won't be successful unless it can offer something of value in return that Google doesn't. In other words, if consumers care about ethics, then ethics are what they shall have.

Count me as another one of those excited to hear about Google's efforts.