Is Google Editions the White Whale, a White Elephant…or a White Knight??

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka

The White Whale swam before him as the monomaniac incarnation of all those malicious agencies which some deep men feel eating in them, till they are left living on with half a heart and half a lung. That intangible malignity which has been from the beginning; to whose dominion even the modern Christians ascribe one-half of the worlds; which the ancient Ophites of the east reverenced in their statue devil; — Ahab did not fall down and worship it like them; but deliriously transferring its idea to the abhorred white whale, he pitted himself, all mutilated, against it. All that most maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, where visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick. He piled upon the whale’s white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart’s shell upon it.

–Chapter 41, Moby Dick by Herman Melville)

Moby Dick

If there’s one thing that’s known about Google Editions, it’s that it is feared by many. We know it’s out there, but few have seen it. And unknown is often scarier than the known…What exactly is Google Editions and what are so many afraid that that Google will co-opt books for their own seemingly nefarious purposes?

Is it, in essence, Ahab’s White Whale? Or is Google Editions something more benign…a White Elephant? Will legal wrangles, resistance, and suspicion keep Google Editions from fulfilling its promise? Is it — as Wikipedia describes a “white elephant” — “a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.”

Or, could Google Editions be something else altogether: a great White Knight, that has come to save books and publishing for future generations to come.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.