Update: Microsoft burns the digital books

Microsoft has pulled the plug on its Live Search Books service and its associated book digitisation projects with organisations such as the British Library.

Update: Microsoft burns the digital books

The company claims in a discretely-issued blog post that it’s “winding down” the Book search “because we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer, and content partner.” In other words, it wasn’t making any money.

The decision won’t affect the British Library’s 19th century book digitisation project, which was the subject of a recent PC Pro feature. But the Library admits future digitisation projects with Microsoft will have to be shelved.

“We were not aware this was coming,” says Lawrence Christensen, PR manager for the British Library. “Basically, Microsoft is honouring its contract. Once those contracts come to an end, that’s the line in the sand.”

The Library is midway through a Microsoft-sponsored project that will see 100,000 19th-century books digitised, which were intended to be made available on Live Book Search and the British Library’s own website. “The books are not currently on the British Library website, but it has always been our intention to get them on the British Library website,” says Christensen, who says a pilot project is already underway.

The Microsoft/British Library partnership was announced with much fanfare in 2005, with Bill Gates himself visiting the Library to launch Windows Vista in 2007 and donate his copy of Leonardo’s Codex for digitisation.

Microsoft says its withdrawal “comes as disappointing news to our partners, the publishing and academic communities, and Live Search users.”

However, the company says it “intends to provide publishers with digital copies of their scanned books. We are also removing our contractual restrictions placed on the digitised library content and making the scanning equipment available to our digitisation partners and libraries to continue digitisation 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.”

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