In 2011, a team of negotiators from Google met with a team of representatives of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). Google’s move to digitize books, and other published content, led to an uproar in the publishing industry. To them, the digitization and offering of free copyrighted material clearly was a copyright violation and threatened the revenue of the publishers. Google, on the other hand, argued that information should be available for everybody equally regardless of whoever produced it.
Both organizations found themselves in a clash of interests. Publishers need advertising revenue to survive. Google wants to maintain its position as the number one platform for information. Publishers do this by producing content, Google does this by aggregating content and making it easily searchable.
Isn’t this exactly the same situation any type of platform is facing? Someone creates a product, and offers it through a platform to increase the product’s reach. I want to sell my shoe, so I put it on Ebay. Ebay offers me access to a customer base, and therefore they get a certain share of the revenue. From my perspective, the same thing happens when Google is digitizing books and uploads them. The only problem is: it makes the content partly accessible for free, and then provides alternative platforms which offer the book as a whole for money.
As long as the number of pages displayed for free isn’t enough to fulfill a potential customer’s need for information, and the book is sold through an outlet in which the publisher gets a share of the revenue, nothing disadvantageous has happened to them. What did happen, though, was that Google increased the reach of the product to potential customers. The only thing which would be disadvantageous to the publisher would be if Google would sell the book as a whole without sharing any of the revenue with the publishers. Or, if it would place advertisements on the product page, without sharing the advertising revenue generated from this with the publishers.
Like the record labels before them, the publishing industry has to learn that, as Christoph Keese points out in his book “Silicon Valley“, “everything that can get digitized, will get digitized”. Authors and publishers alike then need to negotiate with platforms like Google about how they get their fair share of the advertising revenue, not whether or not it should be permitted to digitize part of the information.
When negotiation experts speak of focusing on interests, not positions, they are correct. In order to find common ground, it is indeed necessary to look beyond each player’s positions. What I will argue today is that focusing on interests is not enough either. We need to go even deeper than interests, and look at both partners values and assumptions.
While there obviously was a clash of interests, they were also facing a clash of values
Google stood for freedom of information, while WAN-IFRA stood for data security and copyright. Looking at it this way, it surely seems that the traditional ideal of a win-win solution doesn’t exist in this situation. The implementation of both values seems to be impossible at the same time.
What we should keep in mind, however, is that values are always relative. Just because Google sees the free distribution of information as its Nr. 1 value, doesn’t mean that they do not value the protection of intellectual property at all. Likewise, news papers and publishers certainly value the distribution of information. After all, that’s what their business is all about. In an interview with Danny Sullivan, Eric Schmidt said that “Google sees itself as trying to make the world a better place. And our values are that more information is positive – transparency. And the historic role of the press was to provide transparency, from Watergate on and so forth. So we really do have a moral responsibility to help solve this problem.”.
So there we have it: transparency as a common value. A common goal is to make the information accessible to the reader. And that’s clearly what the negotiation should focus on. Making the information accessible to the reader, while making the venture profitable for both partners.