Digitization and the Demand for Physical Works: Evidence from the Google Books Project
37 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2019 Last revised: 1 Jun 2020
Date Written: May 25, 2020
The digital era promised to deliver a centralized repository of all pre-existing knowledge through
mass digitization. However, concerns about cannibalizing demand for physical works have led publishers and authors to block the realization of this vision. We investigate the effect of mass digitization on demand for physical works using novel data tracking the timing of the digitization of individual books from Harvard University’s libraries through the Google Books project. Digitization hurt loans within Harvard but increased sales of physical editions by about 35%, especially for less popular works. Rather than cannibalizing demand for physical works, mass digitization could increase demand for them, while also increasing their diffusion online.
Keywords: digitization, copyright, books
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