Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Omnivore Wars – The First Salvo

With a shot across the bows of its arch rival, Microsoft finally launch its ‘Live’ programme.

From Thursday, anyone wanting to view an obscure tome from the vaults of the British Library will be able to look for it online along with books from the collections of the University of California and the University of Toronto. The company also plans to add books from the New York Public Library, Cornell University and the American Museum of Veterinary Medicine within the next month. In a later release, Microsoft will also be adding copyright works that publishers have given permission to include in the scanning project.

Once ‘Live’ comes out of the beta release in the next six months and is really live, Microsoft plans to incorporate all of the scanned publications into its general Internet search engine. The most relevant results will be from books. They also have a ‘search inside a book’ feature which will allow users to search full text of books.

Google isn’t standing still and its $200 million project is well documented.
This craze to gulp up everything standing is good and bad for the industry. It will waken up publishers to digitize and hopefully take control of their content and its representation and not let these omnivores bully and cajole them into giving it away for a promise of a few dollars. However, the dangers are significant as both these beasts do not intend to stop here. Both intend to sell digital content. Both start with good intent but in a world where the vast majority of works reside in a grey area which is neither in print nor public domain and where rights are to say the least ambiguous, guess what will happen? The US Orphan Act that was passed this year gives them the perfect vehicle.

So who loses? The answer is potentially everyone. Authors may sold or stolen, Publishers marginalized, retailers not even on their radar. Consumers get indigestion and selection end up being advertising biased.

1 comment:

Martin said...

Interesting post thanks. I look forward to seeing how it works in practice.
Just fyi, I did post a link to it, from your 'create a link' button ... it shows on my site but not on yours.