Google, battling controversy over its plan to put all the world's books online, is now planning to put a little back into the physical world, by letting people create new paperbacks from some of the oldest out-of-print titles.
Having digitised millions of obscure titles, many of which can only be found on the shelves of a few libraries, Google says it understands that many people still want to read books in paper form.
It announced yesterday that two million out-of-copyright titles will be made available for printing at libraries and bookstores that use the "Espresso Book Machine", a special on-site printer that can create a 300-page paperback in five minutes.
These "public domain" books were published before 1923 – an era that includes classics such as Moby Dick and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but many more obscure works. Demonstrating the machine at its Silicon Valley headquarters, Google churned out Lathe Work For Beginners, Dame Curtsey's Book of Candy Making and Memoirs of A Cavalier, a Daniel Defoe novel that never caught on quite like his most famous work, Robinson Crusoe.
"It's like things are coming full circle," Google's Jennie Johnson said at the demonstration. "This will allow people to pick up the physical copy of a book even if there may be just one or two other copies in some library in this country, or maybe it's not even available in this country at all."
Google hopes it might be able to make more recent, in-copyright books available for on-demand printing soon, but first it has to win approval for a settlement with a trade group representing authors and publishers under which it plans to share revenues from selling digitised books. A Manhattan court has heard 400 objections from parties arguing that the settlement is unfair to writers or anti-competitive.Reuse content