Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Mystery of Plain Label Books Solved!

Last year I wrote about Plain Label Books, which appears on the Google Books site. After looking further into the scant information available about that outfit, I've concluded that it's like Gertrude Stein's quip about Oakland: "There's no there there."

I think Plain Label Books (PLB) is a one-man outfit, owned and operated by one Daniel Oldis. He apparently took a bunch of digital book files from Project Gutenberg and put them all together on a CD, adding a few books of his own composition, and offered it for sale. It is available now at the Cafe Press site.

Google Books apparently purchased this CD from PLB, and they loaded the contents onto their own full-text book site. Why? It offered them digital copies of thousands of public domain books, allowing Google to quickly bolster its holdings while its own library digitization process rolled along.

I see no mystery in PLB, and the only question is about Google's behavior. Why keep the PLB covers on the books? Either there were legal reasons for that, or they decided they didn't really care to take the time to change them all to something like "Google Label Books." Sometimes, it's best to let someone else have the credit. And that's how PLB became famous beyond its dreams. Thousands, nay, millions of people around the world check out the Google Books site and many of those visitors see the PLB covers and wonder what's up. The answer is--nothing. Just Google cutting a few corners, that's all.

Realizing that there is nothing but a plain, blank slate behind this little business reminds me of Geraldo Rivera opening Al Capone's vault and finding empty bottles, and little else. That's all there is? No dead bodies? No treasure trail? To paraphrase Eliot, the world of this little story dies not with a bang, but a whimper.