But on the same day last week that Google put thousands of public domain books online, Amazon.com debuted programs that will let people read books on the Web.
In a sense, this is familiar ground for Amazon, which led the technology industry's move toward book digitization with its "Search Inside the Book" feature two years ago. As its name suggests, that offering let people search the text inside books.
But since then, a debate has raged about how to best protect copyright while extending electronic access to texts.
The Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers are suing Google over its Google Print Library Project. The search company wants to digitize and make searchable online texts from the university library collections at Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Oxford and the New York Public Library. The guild and association argue that scanning entire copyright works violates copyright law. Google says it is abiding by the "fair use" provision of the copyright law.
In an interview with CNET News.com, Bezos repeatedly hammered home the point that Amazon is working with the "permission and cooperation of the publishers."
Q: Could you tell us what your goal is with the digital book program?
Bezos: Well, we have two different programs: Amazon Pages and Amazon Upgrade, and they are very different. They're intended to complement each another. Amazon Pages lets you buy one page at a time, and we anticipate that the vast majority of pages would be a few cents per page.
Who decides the price?
Ultimately publishers--copyright holders--will get to make those decisions about how much each page costs. But for the vast majority of books it should be a few cents a page....It's kind of a complete unbundled approach: You can buy a page, you can buy a chapter, you could assemble your own text book....
Then with Amazon Upgrade you buy the physical book--at the same time you buy the physical book, you also can buy online access. Again, it will be a small incremental charge above the price of the physical book. We'll go ahead and ship the physical book to you the way we normally would. You'll instantly get access: It will be perpetual access, 24-7, anywhere you have Web access to that book online.
Consider the case where somebody has to buy a software programming book. If they're learning a new programming language, sometimes they want long reading sessions with that book, and the physical book may be ideal. But then once they start coding, they may want to be able to rapidly access code snippets and in other ways use that book as a reference, and so the Amazon Upgrade may be perfect for that part of their reading experience.
You mentioned the pricing might be a few cents per page for most of the pages. What's the timing on this?
Bezos: We will launch this next year, and at this time we're not being more precise about the date.
And why are you announcing this now? Is it any coincidence it's on the same day Google says it's added thousands of scanned library books to its search database?
Bezos: The reason we're announcing this now is that we have now had so many discussions with publishers about these two programs. We were not going to be able to keep this under wraps, so that kind of necessitated an announcement. Just too many parties know about it. Now, with respect to what we're doing, we really started working on this two years ago--the Search Inside the Book--you may be familiar with that...
Bezos: It's grown tremendously over the last two years. We've been scanning books every day for the last two years, and we continue scanning books every day. One of every two books we sold in the United States is now in the Search Inside the Book program. That has been done the whole time from the beginning until now--and it will continue to be done with the permission and cooperation of the publishers.
How are you going to handle the copyright issues that have been plaguing Google and its projects?
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