The University of Chicago Press recently shut down certain facets of its online book project, seeing no need now that Internet search giants include the content of books in their search results.
Its a relatively insignificant move for the universitys Bibliovault; the 5-year-old project is still functioning as a wholesaler for university presses. But taken in a broader context, the move represents the next phase for anyone using the Internet to sell books.
Last week, the University of Chicago Press "decommissioned" its Scholars Portal, which served as a sort of test drive center where book buyers could view snippets of the book online. The resources once devoted to this feature will now be used instead to supplement the other Bibliovault facets, according to Alister Gibson, Bibliovaults interim manager.
Gibson says the impetus was "changes in the marketplace", which to a large degree involves how Google Inc., Yahoo, Inc. and Microsoft Corp. are each in various stages of their own online book projects.
Google now lets consumers search through the content of books and then offers a way to purchase them. Microsoft and Yahoo intend to have a similar feature available sometime soon.
By including the content of books in their search results, Internet search engines present an instant global sales mechanism that university presses couldnt hope to build for themselves.
But this development comes with some risks. By partnering with Internet search giants, university presses are ceding control over the sales of their books and materials to very powerful companies that do not necessarily have a universitys best interests at heart.
Regardless, its apparent that whats happening in Chicago is likely to happen elsewhere. "Its inevitable that these initiatives will cause a restructuring of the book sales channel," Gibson said.
"Clearly the market has changed since the Scholars Portal was developed and book buyers now have many more choices for book discovery."
For the big three Internet search engines, scholarly works make up a small but significant percentage of the books each search engine intends to scan into its database and allow to be searched. So ripple effects are to be expected.
"The state of digital books a couple of years ago was very small. There was not a lot of traction," said a Yahoo spokesman. "For all the initiatives not succeeding, there will be 10 that are created to do so."