Monday, May 26, 2008

BPN 1110 Never trust a free lunch

Last week Microsoft informed its partners that it is ending the Live Search Books and Live Search Academic projects and that both sites will be taken down this week. This also means that Microsoft is winding down its digitization initiatives, including its library scanning and its in-copyright book programs. A very swift one-sided action for a partnership; never trust a free lunch. Microsoft is in search of a sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer, and content partner.

With Live Search Books and Live Search Academic, Microsoft in partnership with the libraries digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles. These books and scholarly publications will continue to be integrated into our Search results, but not through separate indexes. The university libraries of the University of California and the University of Toronto were partners in the project. They set up a program for library scanning and in-copyright book programs. They did this on the platform we developed with Kirtas, the Internet Archive, CCS, and others. The libraries and the publishers are now left with the remains of the program. They have the technology and equipment in house to scan the books. One advantage is that they have received back the full rights to the scanned books. Unclear is what happened to the cooperation between Microsoft and the British Library as they work together to make 25 million pages of content available.

Satya Nadella, senior vice president search, portal and advertising, writes in his blog: “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.”

The decision is a strange one. Did Microsoft go into these library and publishing projects to find out sustainable strategies for search engines? Bonkers. While Google has a strategy to make every publication digitally available and committed itself to library and publishing programs, Microsoft started the program just to compete with Google, despite the objective of increasing the discoverability of all the valuable content worldwide. Pure lip service! Now the company claim that they learned a lot, brought down the cost of copying and will work on a sustainable business model for searching. The translation of Microsoft’s statement will most likely be too black and white, but Microsoft basically says that the library and publishing programs did not serve as a catalyst for more sustainable search strategies. Now Microsoft changes its strategy per direct and looks into verticals with high commercial intent like travel. In other words, the library and publishing business is not profitable enough; they should have known better before getting in.

For the libraries and publishers the free lunch is over. Of course, there was never a free lunch as the libraries and publishers were limited in their actions and in the use of the scans.

Blog Posting Number: 1110

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