MSN Joins Yahoo to Build Book Search

Microsoft's MSN division is following in Google's footsteps with plans to roll out a book search next year. But to avoid the same legal troubles that have plagued its rival, MSN will adopt an opt-in policy while focusing on books in the public domain and other print material not under copyrights.

MSN has also joined the Open Content Alliance (OCA), which was founded by Yahoo and the Internet Archive earlier this year. The OCA is a collaborative effort to digitize information so it can be globally shared. In addition to a number of libraries worldwide, Adobe and HP are contributors as well.

According to Microsoft, 50 percent of online search queries currently go unanswered. The company believes that by expanding searches into offline content such as books, Web searches will allow for better and faster retrieval of information. Google offered similar motivations for its Google Print effort.

In its announcement Wednesday, Microsoft was careful to emphasize that it would respect the rights of authors and would work out "mutually agreeable protections" for copyrights. Concerns from authors have prompted a flurry of lawsuits against Google over the past few months.

Microsoft intends to launch MSN Book Search next year in beta form, and eventually see itself branching out beyond books to all types of content not available online. The company will pay for the first 150,000 books to be digitized, at an expected cost of $5 million. Yahoo, meanwhile, has pledged to fund the digitization of 18,000 books.

MSN hasn't established a revenue model for the book search as of yet, but said it was considering pay-per-page, monthly subscriptions or even downloadable ebook sales.

However, Jupiter Research senior analyst and Microsoft Monitor author Joe Wilcox says consumers are tired of "intentions" and need something more tangible than just plans, which from Hailstorm to Longhorn and WinFS, often change within the confines of Redmond.

"In the case of MSN Book Search, a competitive motivation is clearly discernible, which is the case with many (perhaps most) Microsoft announced intentions," Wilcox said. "Google Print provides text search of books, and Microsoft spends lots of time chasing Google products."

Wilcox offered some advice to Microsoft: "Why not release (no announced intentions, please) something that gets ahead of Google rather than follow behind with technologies like desktop search, real maps and now book search?"

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