Sunday, May 25, 2008

Likely you've heard the news -- Microsoft ends its book digitization project

It is likely that you have heard this news already, especially if you have searches focused on digitization. Microsoft will no longer be digitizing books and creating a book search engine. (Full announcement below.) As one writer put it, it is conceding to Google.

In its blog post on the topic, Microsoft said (emphasis added):
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.
I'm glad to see that the materials that have been digitized will live on. I am sorry, though, to see Microsoft leave this market. Having several companies (or initiatives) involved in book digitization on a large scale -- and thinking abut access, etc. -- is beneficial. While one initiative can succeed without competition, having more than one pushes them all to be innovative and market-focused. With one less large scale book digitization program, is there enough competition to focus Google to be innovative in how they meet end-user needs as well as the needs of its partners?

By the way, I find it curious that Microsoft made the announcement on a Friday before a long holiday weekend in the U.S. I'm sure that was on purpose (with the assumption that most people wouldn't see the news right away).

The Washington Post carried the full-text of Microsoft's email to its partners announcing its decision. Quoting the email:

Dear Live Search Books Publisher Program Partner,

We are writing today to inform you that we are ending the Live Search Books Publisher Program, including our digitization initiative, and closing the Live Search Books site. We recognize that this is disappointing news to you and to the users of the Live Search Books service. Ending the Live Search Books program is the result of a strategic decision on our part to focus our investments in new vertical search areas where we believe we can more effectively differentiate Live Search.

Given the evolution of the web and our strategy, we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for search engines, consumers, and content partners. For example, 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.

With Live Search Books and Live Search Academic, we digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles. Based on our experience, we foresee that the best way for a search engine to make book content available will be by crawling content repositories created by book publishers and libraries. With our investments, the technology to create these repositories is now available at lower costs for those with the commercial interest or public mandate to digitize book content. We will continue to track the evolution of the industry and evaluate future opportunities.

As we wind down Live Search Books we will be reaching out to you in partnership with Ingram Digital Group with information on new marketing and sales opportunities designed to help you derive ongoing benefits from your participation in the Live Search Books Publisher Program. As part of this initiative, we will be making the scan files we created from your print book submissions available to you for free. We will follow-up next week with more information on these offers.

The Live Search Books Publisher Program site ( will be taken down immediately. The Live Search Books site ( will be taken down next week.

We sincerely appreciate your support and regret any inconvenience that this decision has caused. You can read more about this announcement on The Live Search blog (


The Live Search Books Team

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steve said...

How does this affect other Microsoft linked digitization programs such as the one with Kirtas at Yale, and the British Library project? Are they all being shut down?

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

As Microsoft's blog post says:

"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."

Could those projects continue without Microsoft's involvement? Yes. Will they? I would guess that will "wind down" quickly and end, while new funding is sought. Finding funds to continue the work will be key.

Of course, could it be that Google will step in and take over these projects?

Anonymous said...

Has some good comments from Anne Kenney, Cornell Librarian, and others, about the impact of the Microsoft decision.