Throwing in the Towel: Microsoft Abandons Its Book Search

- by Michael Stillman

Microsoft's look for matches inside the book was also clean and easy to follow.

However, this concession does not guarantee a victory for Google. Herein lies the issue for people who are interested in the electronic accessibility of the content of books. Google, or any private company dominating access to knowledge, has made many people uneasy. Microsoft dropping out of the competition will not make them feel better. However, books are still being digitized by other, nonprofit organizations, such as the Open Content Alliance. Other sites besides Google continue to offer digitize books, though on a much smaller scale. Microsoft is leaving its scanning equipment with the libraries so they can continue scanning, albeit without Microsoft footing the bill. And, 750,000 books have already been scanned under Microsoft's tutelage. These will no longer be available through a targeted Microsoft book search, but will be available through a regular Microsoft Live search. So will books scanned by OCL or anyone else who makes them accessible to the public. Microsoft, naturally, hopes this will reduce any advantage Google receives from being alone in the book search business. For others, the hope is that access to the contents of books will also be available through some consortium of nonprofits, rather than being under the sole control of one company answerable only to the financial needs of its shareholders.

Now for one final thought: Microsoft was recently involved in a very public bid to buy out the number two search engine, Yahoo, to combine forces for a run at number one Google. It fell through because Yahoo management was not satisfied with Microsoft's offer of only $47.5 billion (to the chagrin of many Yahoo shareholders). Instead, Yahoo has signed on to an agreement with Google for the latter to provide advertising to the Yahoo site. So, we know Microsoft has an extra $47.5 billion still lying around, it has saved money by cutting back on matching some of Google's services, it has now seen its archrival consummate a relationship with the company it hoped to buy, and yet Microsoft hardly seems ready to concede the internet to Google. Perhaps it will be the rollout of the cash back program to buyers who locate products through a Microsoft Live Search, or maybe something else, but we expect to see something dramatic from Microsoft in the days ahead. Bill Gates is not ready to sing just yet.

Editor's Note:We received a letter from James Keeline, former antiquarian bookseller and current web developer, with much information on the Google and Microsoft book searches. To see his letter, go to Letters to the Editor (click here) and scroll to the one dated July 31, 2008.