Microsoft is now wooing publishers for its Live Books project, using as a tagline, “your search for new readers â€“ and new profits â€“ is over.” Like Google Book Search‘s publisher program, they will scan print books or will accept digital copies. And like Amazon’s Search Inside, this search will allow for discovery, but not for printing, saving, or cut-and-paste. And there’s only so much a user will be able to see.
The rights holder sets the percentage of the book that will be viewable by a user in each 30-day period, starting at 5% of the book and going up to 100%, in 5% increments. The maximum number of viewable pages will be a percentage of the total number of pages in the book. The user can navigate through the book as he or she wishes until the percentage limit is reached. . . . For each page that contains one or more of the userâ€™s search query terms, approximately 25% of the total page will be displayed (either in one continuous segment, or in two or more discrete segments). The remainder of the page will be obscured so that its content is not readable.
Boy, does that sound convenient or what?
Unlike libraries, all of these full-text book searches track what an individual is looking at – here, to make sure you don’t read more than a percentage of the book within a given month. (Amazon only allows people who have made purchases at Amazon to Search Inside; Google just wants to know everything. As a company official said in the New York Times yesterday, “Ultimately, our goal at Google is to have the strongest advertising network and all the world’s information.” All? Wow.)
This tracking of who’s reading what is something libraries are reluctant to do, believing privacy is a precondition of freedom to read. Interestingly, an article in the current issue of Educause Quarterly says librarians need to get over their obsession with privacy because it limits customization. “Dogmatic library protection of privacy inhibits library support for file-sharing, work-sharing, and online trust-based transactions that are increasingly common in online environments, thus limiting seamless integration of Web-based services.” Not to mention seamless execution of search warrants and National Security Letters. But, hey. Would you put safety of the few ahead of convenience for the masses? Don’t answer that.
Though the University of California and the University of Toronto are participating in Microsoft’s project, there doesn’t appear to be any plan to have a “find in a library” function – or if there is, Microsoft isn’t telling publishers. After all, if you’re trying to grow the market for books, you wouldn’t have anything to do with libraries, would you? They don’t sell books.
Actually, if you thought about it you would. I’m willing to bet those who use libraries are more likely to be book buyers than those who don’t. But right now publishers seem more worried about someone reading a book without paying for it than about growing the market for their books generally. And that’s sadly short-sighted.