Microsoft Ends Live Book Search

May 23rd, 2008 · 2 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

Wow, usually it’s the government dumping news on Friday; you don’t expect it from Microsoft, but here you have it: they’re discontinuing their Live Book Search project. Effective, well, now. They say:

Today we informed our partners that we are ending the Live Search Books and Live Search Academic projects and that both sites will be taken down next week. Books and scholarly publications will continue to be integrated into our Search results, but not through separate indexes.

This also means that we are winding down our digitization initiatives, including our library scanning and our in-copyright book programs. We recognize that this decision comes as disappointing news to our partners, the publishing and academic communities, and Live Search users.

I’ve never had a warm fuzzy about the Microsoft initiative. It seemed to be developed to be a publisher-friendly antidote to Google Book Search, but Microsoft’s caution, lack of, well, consumer interest (as demonstrated by their continually lagging search rankings), and huge aversion to chutzpah made this one of those things. You got the t-shirt, the demo, the water bottle, but not the product.

I admit I was skeptical when the project required the submission of physical books to be scanned. What, I asked my friendly Microsoft rep, if the book is already digitized? They weren’t prepared for that, he said. Sometime in the future, maybe. They chose to work within the system a little too much — the book publishers were dragging their feet on digitization, dragging their feet on making usable information to the people seeking it.

But I also thought that having Microsoft in the game was vitally important. I am bothered by the idea of having all this knowledge in the hands of one entity. Setting aside the idea that you never know where or how people are going to search, it makes no sense to let a single entity control access. I feel this way about publishers selectively releasing “snippets” to the search engines for indexing. There has to be a better way.

The truth of the matter is there is far more knowledge to be scanned than available funds allow. Public libraries, for example, simply don’t have the financial resources to digitize all of their content. Other institutions require assistance; I have been pleased to see that companies like Google and Microsoft — who are clearly not doing this work out of the pure goodness of their hearts, though some goodness is clearly at play — have been engaged in saving knowledge for future generations. Do we really want to lose aspects of history due to never-ending budget cuts?

They continue to encourage others to build upon their efforts:

As we wind down Live Search Books, we are reaching out to participating publishers and libraries. We are encouraging libraries to build on the platform we developed with Kirtas, the Internet Archive, CCS, and others to create digital archives available to library users and search engines.

In partnership with Ingram Digital Group, we are also reaching out to participating publishers with information about new marketing and sales opportunities designed to help them derive ongoing benefits from their participation in the Live Search Books Publisher Program.

We have learned a tremendous amount from our experience and believe this decision, while a hard one, can serve as a catalyst for more sustainable strategies. To that end, we intend to provide publishers with digital copies of their scanned books. We are also removing our contractual restrictions placed on the digitized library content and making the scanning equipment available to our digitization partners and libraries to continue digitization programs. We hope that our investments will help increase the discoverability of all the valuable content that resides in the world of books and scholarly publications.

So while I never felt the magic when it came to Microsoft’s initiative — too much pro-industry, too little pro-reader — I believed they were offering a valuable service and creating much-needed competition.

File Under: The Future of Publishing

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