Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I've Been Googled. Is That A Bad Thing?

One of the things I love about my job is the fact that I constantly get advanced reading copies of books sent to me. Now, I 'm not complaining, but I get so many of these books sent to me, I can't read them all. So every month or so, I put them out in the employee break room and watch the book free-for-all that ensues.

I did this yesterday, mainly to get rid of the books that had been piling up in my office and that I didn't have time to read, and partially just for the entertainment value of watching people dig through the pile of books. Letting a greased pig go couldn't have been as much fun.

At the end of the day, few books remained on the table. There were some children's books left behind, which, I really can't blame anyone for not taking, as I wouldn't let my own children read a few of the titles. Not because of offensive content, but just because after a cursory look, the book was so badly written, I wouldn't want them subject to such poor writing.

One book that remained behind was a book that I had glanced at earlier, but put on the table because I just didn't feel I had the time to read it. Apparently, no one else wanted this book either. Just before leaving the store in the evening. I picked it up one more time, browsed the table of contents, flipped through a couple of chapters, then put it in my book bag. Yes, I have a book bag. What else am I supposed to carry my books in?

I ride the train to and from work each day, so I take the time to read and write, rather than stare out the windows at all the graffiti. I opened up this book and began to read. Wow.

"What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis is an enlightening look into what he calls both the Google Era and the post-link society. The book is a study of how Google has become the "the fastest growing company in the history of the world," by looking deeply into the practices of Google's success. But, he goes beyond Google. Jarvis asks us to imagine a world in which information is shared and collaborated on by businesses and their customers. For example, an open-source restaurant where feedback from customers about the food and dining experience is instant. Have the restaurant put their recipes online. Let their customers bake them at home, make changes, make suggestions. This doesn't, he argues, ultimately take the control out of the hands of the chef, but gives the chef and the restaurant the opportunity to change and adapt to their customers.

The scariest chapter for me, was when Jarvis re-imagined the book publishing and selling business. I work in a bookstore. I write books. As an author, you write books and hope people like your words enough to pay for them. As a bookseller, you help people find authors that appeal to them so that they will buy the books from your bookstore. What if my livelihood were suddenly changed by an influx of free books on the Internet, or offering only ebooks. Is this such a bad thing, Jarvis asks. I began the chapter by screaming "Yes." I ended the chapter by realizing that the Internet actually helps my business, both in writing and selling books. Collaborate with your community of book lovers, wherever they may be. True, they may get a book for free on the Internet, but as Paulo Coelho found out, free copies of his books on the Internet only increased the sales of books in the traditional format, therefore, making him money from those sales. Jarvis points out, and the book business is no different, that the world is no longer a place of "mass markets," it's a world of "markets of mass niches." Embrace what make you different, unique, and special. Take that to your community, take feedback, and improve. Find the community that already exists and offer them something that is indispensable to that community.

After reading the chapter on car manufacturers, I can only wonder: Would the big three American auto makers be in the situation they are in today, basically broke and looking for government handouts, if they quit operating like they were still in the middle of the twentieth century and recreated themselves in the twenty-first century, post-link world? No. In fact, they just might be flourishing, in a stronger position than ever.

Admittedly, I haven't finished the entire book, but what I have read has got me thinking. How can I find a community for my writing. How can I improve my bookstore in the post-link world? In short, What would Google do? If you have ideas for the University Campus Store Book Department, or bookstores anywhere, let's hear them in the comment section.

Jeff Jarvis is the author of the blog, Buzzmachine.com.

"What Would Google Do?" by Jeff Jarvis will be available for purchase on January 27, 2009, either in the Campus Store, or at our online fulfillment partner, Powells.com.

No comments: