Microsoft Corp. struck a deal yesterday with the British Library to scan 100,000 books from its vast collection and make them freely available for reading and searching on the Internet next year.
The move by the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant is the latest foray into a hotly competitive battle among the leading Internet players over digitizing that old-fashioned favorite, the printed book. On Thursday, Amazon.com Inc., the largest online bookstore, disclosed plans to enable computer users to purchase individual pages or chapters of books for immediate online delivery, while Google Inc. put thousands of newly scanned library books online for free at print.google.com.
"Do I think people will read 'Moby Dick' on their computers? No," said Danielle Tiedt, who heads content acquisition for Microsoft's MSN Search unit. But she said the company thinks there is a market for consumers who want to read selections from cookbooks, travel books and other reference works online.
A Google official praised Microsoft's initiative as a positive step for researchers and students yesterday. "We are supportive of all digitization efforts. We think digitizing more books is good for users worldwide," said Google Vice President Susan Wojcicki.
While Microsoft, Amazon and a similar effort at Yahoo Inc. involve working cooperatively with publishers, Google is embroiled in a legal conflict over its scanning and display of books that are protected by copyright. Major publishers have sued Google to block its scanning. Legal experts are divided in their views, but many predict the case will eventually go to the Supreme Court.
Tiedt emphasized that in contrast to Google, Microsoft would seek permission from publishers before scanning any books protected by copyright. Books published before 1923 generally are considered out-of-copyright and in the public domain, Tiedt noted, adding that Microsoft, which has been the victim of software piracy, has enormous respect for intellectual property rights.
Amazon also plans to work closely with publishers through two new initiatives: Amazon Pages, which will "unbundle" books by enabling computer users to purchase individual pages for a few cents, and Amazon Upgrade, which will allow people to buy hard-copy books as well as online access to the contents. Amazon sells newly published books as a primary source of revenue, while the other companies are generally offering free access to older works from library collections.
"Amazon Upgrade is for the customer who wants the physical book and wants to start reading right away," Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos said in an interview with CNBC.
Bezos said Amazon Upgrade would appeal to niche audiences, including software engineers who might want immediate online access to technical data. "We're working hard to make the world's books instantly accessible anytime and anywhere," Bezos said in a statement.
Tiedt predicted that the quality of Internet search generally would improve as more books and other off-line materials become available online. She said Microsoft is working on software to rank the relevance of books in search results.
In terms of generating a profit from book scanning, Tiedt said Microsoft would test business models that include online advertising accompanying search results, as well as the sharing of revenue with authors, publishers and retailers from the sale of books. The scanning of the first 100,000 books at the British Library will cost Microsoft an estimated $2.5 million and will be handled through a global alliance it has joined to hold down the cost of book digitization, Tiedt said.
by Henry James. The work is part of a project by Google and
to make out-of-copyright books available online.