MSN Search today announced its intention to launch MSN® Book Search, which will support MSN Search’s efforts to help people find exactly what they’re looking for on the Web, including the content from books, academic materials, periodicals and other print resources. MSN Search intends to launch an initial beta of this offering next year. MSN also intends to join the Open Content Alliance (OCA) and work with the organization to scan and digitize publicly available print materials, as well as work with copyright owners to legally scan protected materials.
MSN will first make available books that are in the public domain and is working with the Internet Archive to digitize the material. MSN will then work to extend its offering to other types of offline content. The digitized content will primarily be print material that has not been copyrighted, and Microsoft will clearly respect all copyrights and work with each partner providing the information to work out mutually agreeable protections for copyrights.
At this point the MSN Book Search business model is rather vague:
Microsoft has committed to paying for the digitization of 150,000 books in the first year, which will be about $5 million, assuming costs of about 10 cents a page and 300 pages, on average, per book, she said. Yahoo has said it will pay for digitization of 18,000 books, according to Tiedt.
Microsoft’s MSN Web site will launch its MSN Book Search service next year and will experiment with different business models, such as pay per page, monthly subscriptions, selling e-books and advertisements, Tiedt said. “The business model will change, depending on whether (the book) is out of copyright or in copyright,” she said.
MSN will offer more than the simple search of the books. For instance, the company may offer services such as allowing people to annotate works, create discussion groups and move text into productivity applications, Tiedt said.
To net it out:
Tiedt said she expects it will take years — and require a substantial investment — to solidify the MSN product, working out all the complex issues around searching through books and other materials online.
“This is not a money-maker for the company,” Tiedt said. “This is very much a strategic bet for search overall.”
The effort marks Microsoft’s latest effort to play catch-up with Google on various search technologies ranging from basic Internet search to localized queries.
And yes, it’s all about Google:
“It’s interesting to see everyone jumping on the digital library bandwagon,” said Doron Weber, a program director at the Sloan Foundation in New York, which provides funding for the Internet Archive, the original organizers of the OCA.
Many university libraries have had separate projects to digitize out-of-print works, but progress has been slow.
That changed when Web powerhouse Google unveiled plans last year to work with publishers and five major libraries on dual projects to make many of the world’s great books searchable on the Web.
“Google’s push has galvanized everyone else,” Doron said.
All the copyright caveats in the Microsoft announcement are apparently to avoid the legal problems that have hit Google’s rival Google Print Library Project. The difference is that Google plans on scanning and indexing books regardless of copyrights unless a publisher explicitly demurs – i.e. it’s “opt out” instead of “opt in” on copyrighted material. Access to anything more than brief excerpts from copyrighted material would still require permission or purchase. Google believes that the scanning and indexing constitute “Fair Use” under copyright law. Some authors and publishers disagree. A legal assessment favorable to Google, but which nicely summarizes the issues is available from Jonathan Band.