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MSN Jumps on Book Search Wagon

MSN hopped into the literary fray on Tuesday, announcing its intention to launch MSN Book Search in 2006.

MSN will work directly with copyright owners to get permission to scan their works for indexing. It also joined the Open Content Alliance (OCA) and will work with the organization on its efforts to scan and digitize books in the public domain.

The move highlights the growing importance of search for content that was not originated for the Web, while adding fuel to the fire of controversy regarding Google's own book-scanning operations.

While the Google Print Project allows publishers to offer books for scanning, the Google Library Project asks them to opt out if they don't want their books in library collections scanned.

MSN will let publishers opt in for all scanning.

"We definitely will have to have an automated system for publishers," said Danielle Tiedt, general manager of search content acquisition for MSN. "The amount of books out there that we'll have to bring online is massive. We can't rely on phone calls and FTP sending of books. Building the right infrastructure and platform will be critical."

MSN will use the OCA's index of public domain works, but also build its own index of works under copyright by making deals directly with publishers, paying the Archive to do the work of scanning.

"We've decided that the actual digitization is not our core competency," Tiedt said. "What we want to invest all our efforts in is adding value on top of that content."

For example, MSN has plans to let searchers bookmark the content, or "loop it in" with MSN Messenger so that they can share and discuss it with friends. Tiedt saw more synergy with Microsoft's digital book efforts, which include e-book reading software for the Tablet PC.

The OCA was announced on Oct. 3. Led by Yahoo and the Internet Archive, the group includes Adobe , HP Labs , O'Reilly Media, the European Archive, the National Archives of the UK, the Prelinger Archives and the Universities of California and Toronto.

The OCA now pits the second- and third-tier search providers, Yahoo and MSN respectively, against Google, the leader in terms of total number of searches completed and, more important, in terms of revenue from search advertising.

The Internet Archive will host the content OCA digitizes in a permanent, open repository on its Web servers, with search powered by Yahoo. That content also will be available through Yahoo Search. The organization affirmed that content under copyright would be made available through the OCA only with the copyright holders' authorization.

This is a swipe at Google, which plans to resume scanning works under copyright in library collections on Nov. 1, despite protests from publishers and authors.

"There's a difference in philosophy around copyright," Tiedt said. "Yahoo and MSN view protection of copyright one way, and Google views it differently. For us, protecting copyright will ensure we get the biggest selection of works."

When asked to comment on the OCA's activities, a Google spokesman said, "We're proud to say that Google Print offers people access to a growing diversity of full-text public domain books and portions of copyright works.

"The OCA is a valuable effort but is limited to a relatively small universe of authors and publishers who wish to make the entire content of their work available online for free and without restriction. With Google Print, content owners can choose whether to show the full text of their work or just a sample to encourage book purchases."

MSN plans to enable a variety of new revenue opportunities for itself and publishers, Tiedt said. Possibilities include charging searchers to view a page or section; enabling them to buy the content; and offering monthly subscriptions for access to a publisher's content, as well as showing ads against search results.

Billing and payments will be handled on MSN's existing billing platform, which already handles $1 billion a year in transactions for MSN Internet access and Xbox online games.

Google is expected to launch a similar payment platform via finance.google.com that would leverage its existing automated billing service for search advertising to enable pay-per-view content.

It applied for a patent on a method for offering pay-per-view documents, scanned documents that include clickable ads and even the ability for print publishers to swap out ads in digital copies of their printed pages.

MSN Book Search completes a conceptual shift in the purpose of search. Web search started as just that: a look at what was available on the Web. Now, the major search providers seem to believe that everything should be available on the Web.

"Search is now the Web gateway to information," Tiedt said. "It's not just search for what's on the Web. Our end goal is, every question somebody has, we want to be able to answer. You can't do that with just Web pages."

This shift was led by Google, with its mission statement, of "organizing the world's information and making it universally accessible and useful."

But that mission collided with the mission of authors and publishers, which includes retaining control of the distribution of their work.

Google's corporate counsel David Drummond said he believes the Google Library Project falls under fair use principles, because the search service shows only a snippet of text in search results unless it has permission from the publisher to show more.

Both the Association of American Publishers and the Authors Guild sued Google for copyright infringement.