Digital book burning
Microsoft announced today that it would end Live Search Books, just eighteen months after the program was officially launched. Live Search Books, similar to Google Book Search, collaborated with publishers and libraries to make book content searchable and viewable online. However Live Search Books differed in that it included books currently in copyright only if granted permission by the publisher. Google Book Search digitizes books from libraries irrespective of their copyright status, the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.
The announcement from Microsoft held few clues as to why they were pulling the plug. Perhaps the revenue generated by book content didn’t fit in with strategic changes that followed the collapse of talks with Yahoo. The announcement said in part: “This past Wednesday we announced our strategy to focus on verticals with high commercial intent, such as travel, and offer users cash back on their purchases from our advertisers.” It’s difficult to see the majority of books published, much less the books that we produce, fitting into “verticals with high commercial intent.”
The University of Chicago Press supported the Live Search Books program by providing more than a thousand books to Microsoft in digital form for inclusion in the program.
It’s worth noting that even after more than five years of development and digitization, Google Book Search is still classified as a beta project. Making book content available on the web is, now more than ever, just a work in progress.