Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, May 25, 2008

More on Microsoft's withdrawal from Academic Search, Book Search, and book scanning

Here are some comments from around the web on Microsoft's decision to pull the plug on Academic Search, Book Search, and book scanning.

From Brewster Kahle at the Internet Archive (note that Microsoft has been a partner in the Open Content Alliance, run by the Internet Archive):

The Internet Archive operates 13 scanning centers in great libraries, digitizing 1000 books a day. This scanning is financially supported by libraries, foundations, and the Microsoft Corporation. Today, Microsoft has announced that it will ramp down their investment in this area. We very much appreciate their efforts and funding in book scanning over the last 3 years. As a result, over 300,000 books are publicly available on the site that would not otherwise be.

To their credit, they said they are taking off any contractual restrictions on the public domain books and letting us keep the equipment that they funded. This is extremely important because it can allow those of us in the public sphere to leverage what they helped build. Keeping the public domain materials public domain is where we all wanted to be. Getting a books scanning process in place is also a major accomplishment. Thank you Microsoft.

Funding for the time being is secure, but going forward we will need to replace the Microsoft funding. Microsoft has always encourage the Open Content Alliance to work in parallel in case this day arrived. Let's work together, quickly, to build on the existing momentum. All ideas welcome.

Onward to a completely public library system!

From Farhad Manjoo at Salon:

The company says it "recognizes" that closing these services will "come as disappointing news" to publishers and Web searchers. And yet Microsoft says it must shut them down anyway, because letting people search through books and academic journals no longer fits into the company's business strategy.

What's that new strategy? Microsoft wants to help people who have "high commercial intent." I am not making that up. Satya Nadella, the company's vice president for search, actually uses those words. Microsoft would simply prefer to build search engine just for people looking to buy stuff....

On the other hand, if you are, inexplicably and ungratefully, simply looking for information, Microsoft wants no part of that. Why don't you go to Google or some kind of soup kitchen, you no-good freeloader?

This is heroically stupid. Seriously, is it any wonder that this company -- this company which has, for a decade now, flailed about in all its efforts online -- has found itself so outgunned by that Ph.D.-machine over in Mountain View? ...

To be sure, Google wants to make money, and it, like Microsoft, has been fantastically successful at that. But on many of its products, Google makes no money at all.

It sees no cash in scanning library books or searching scholarly journals....

But Google derives enormous indirect benefits from these non-commercial projects. College students, for instance, spend endless hours on Google's Web search engine, as well as on Google Scholar and Google Books, as part of the research. Where do you suppose the students will be inclined to go, later on, when they're looking for sunglasses?

Google's willingness to spend on not-in-it-for-the-money projects also surely helps it recruit the best minds in tech. I've spoken to Googlers who joined the firm primarily because they believed in its mission....

From Rick Prelinger on the Association of Moving Image Archivists list:

...The good news is that Microsoft is removing the restrictions that it had placed on the out-of-copyright books they paid to scan. These books will be available through the Internet Archive and the Open Library ( The Open Library supports full-text queries. MSFT is also letting the IA keep the extensive scanning infrastructure that it partly paid to develop....

The bad news is that MSFT's significant support for digitization will be winding down. We are working to find funding so that we can continue, and even increase, our efforts. We would like to keep the cultural heritage that's held by the world's major libraries accessible through the public and not-for-profit sector, rather than through a small number of commercial enterprises.

I think there's a important lesson here for public and nonprofit archives and libraries. We can't rely on the commercial sector to build and maintain persistent, long-lasting collections. If we're going to fulfill our mission to preserve cultural heritage, we will have to find ways to do it within noncommercial institutions, organizations that can take a longer view without falling victim to short-term pressures.

[PS:  For a response to Prelinger's concluding lesson, see Jim Lindner's post to the same list.  Thanks to Klaus Graf for links to them both.]

From Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land:

...Gosh, Google somehow seems to be able to run a sustainable business model and devote some energy and resources into indexing books and scholarly information, even if those generate little to no revenue. They do it in part because they think it's good business to provide all types of searches, not just those that will earn them money.

In the middle of a search war, I can understand that a "distraction" like book and academic search might seem like something to Microsoft that has to go. However, Microsoft's not hurting for cash to keep it up, if it wanted. Dropping it makes Google seem less like the evil giant working for its own benefit that Microsoft would hope people view it as....

From Richard Wallis at Panlibus:

...It is interesting that they have come to the realisation 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.  - The question of course is who’s search engine.

Without doing much reading between the lines, it is clear that Microsoft have failed to see a business model in the worthy job of digitizing the world’s books.  I wonder if there is one, or does the answer lay with open data projects like the Open Library, the Million Book Project, and the sharing of libraries.