Could Personal Book Scanning Ever Become Commercialized?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

A few years ago, before the advent of NetGalley, Edelweiss and other digital book review services, I used to send my print galleys through a table saw, slicing off the spines, and then run them through a sheetfed scanner. I’d read the resulting PDFs on my Toshiba Tablet PC (a 2002 model, now in a landfill along with all those PDFs, so don’t worry publishers). The simple convenience of having digital editions of all those books I used to review for a living and being able to mark them up digitally was a real convenience, and saved a lot of shelf space in my tiny Brooklyn apartment.

Today, if I lived in Russia, Indonesia, Japan or any number of other countries, I could have a commercial service scan my books for me.

In Russia, Bookmate has taken the unorthodox strategy of encouraging readers to scan and upload their own titles to Bookmate’s cloud library, which they can then download for their personal use to various devices.

In Japan, there’s the practice of jisui, scanning your books to free up space (as discussed in today’s feature story), which threw publishers into a fit.

Then you have pirates…oh, and Google Book Search, where you have a breathtaking amount of books and passages of books at your fingertips.

Yet, there is no commercial service in the US — no legal service — that will enable you to scan your books, and keep them in the cloud, Publishers fear the pirates (as they do in Japan) and rightfully so.

Yet, when it comes to music, you can send in your collection of old CDs to Ripdigital and they’ll convert them to MP3s for you. You can do the same for your DVDs.

Books…well, not so much. You do have venerable websites, such as that will teach you how to produce your own book scanning machine a la Google’s, and one that won’t destroy your books like my method. (I am a fan of the Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners.)

The rationale behind such sites is that it goes without saying that if you own the books, you should have the right to do what you wish with them. And technically, you do. But the very idea of a commercial service that would scan and upload your books to a cloud library in the sky is enough to send most publishers to the emergency room.

I suppose it take a true fanatic to go through all that trouble to slice, scan and upload a book in the first place. Is it really worth the bother? And would it really be worth it to pay someone?

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.