In tomorrow's New York Times magazine, Kevin Kelly writes the best explanation I have recently read of why book digitization is a good idea and its potential pitfalls. The beginning of the article is a bit silly and utopian, with its claims that the "universal library" (which will include the sum of all human content ever created) is nigh, but Kelly soon becomes more realistic, actually discussing current and near-future technology. Not only does he mentions the benefits that digital books hold for education (especially among lower-income students and in third-world countries), but he manages to include discussions of the public domain, orphaned works, how hyperlinking and cross-referencing make research easier, and Wikipedia. The article closes with a discussion of Google Book Search (formerly Google Print) which does an excellent job of explaining the controversy around the program and why many publishers are against it:
The argument is about the 75 percent of books that have been abandoned by publishers as uneconomical. One curious fact, of course, is that publishers only care about these orphans now because Google has shifted the economic equation; because of Book Search, these dark books may now have some sparks in them, and the publishers don't want this potential revenue stream to slip away from them. They are now busy digging deep into their records to see what part of the darkness they can declare as their own.