Microsoft two days ago said it is shuttering its Live Search Books and Live Search Academic software projects, through which the company digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles.
Slated to close next week, this includes nixing library scanning and the company's in-copyright book programs.
Why would a company desperate to gain search market share from Google close down two search services?
Simple. Money, or rather, the lack thereof, in book search.
Microsoft realized that while offering search services for librarians, students and academians researching English, history, science and a litany of other subjects is a noble cause, it wasn't going to help the company grow search market share or make more ad revenues.
Look, book search is a nice niche, but it doesn't exactly rake in the online ad cash when librarians and college students use it to put a magnifying glass to Shakespeare, Dante or medical journals. The last thing that researchers think about when studying texts is buying something, so it doesn't pay to put paid links in these services. Moreover, you just can't build mass with book search.
Satya Nadella, senior vice president of search, portal and advertising for Microsoft, wrote in a blog post Friday that commercial (read: e-commerce) is the way Microsoft is going to narrow the 50 percent search gap between itself and Google.
"Given the evolution of the Web and our strategy, we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer, and content partner," Nadella wrote. "For example, this past Wednesday we announced our strategy to focus on verticals with high commercial intent, such as travel, and offer users cash back on their purchases from our advertisers."
Nadella is referring to Live Search Cashback and Live Search Farecast, both of which aim to appeal to the entire consumer market the way Amazon does.
With Cashback, Microsoft is offering rebates to users who buy goods they find through searching Live.com. Farecast is basically Microsoft's acquired predictive travel e-commerce site, which it plans to offer rebates for in the future.
Microsoft sees the roiling online ad ocean and is going where the big fish are.
In short, Microsoft is gambling by spending money to gain user brand loyalty and therefore search share, while chucking out useful, but very targeted segments such as books and academic search.
I have no issue with this, but I'm not researching books or journals or any other academic content, so general search (from Google, of course) suits me just fine.
But Microsoft probably just lost a chunk of the research community and any students using it. They will likely go to Google or Yahoo to spite Microsoft, even if these searches are a small percentage that Microsoft may deem expendable. Danny Sullivan captures the positioning of the move here, noting how Google will benefit.
Microsoft has other methods to its madness though. Nadella said Microsoft believes the best way for a search engine to make book content available will be by crawling content repositories created by book publishers and libraries.
Like they said about the Six Million Dollar Man, Microsoft claims it has the technology to build these repositories for publishers and libraries and wants them to build on the platform the company developed with Kirtas, the Internet Archive, CCS and others to create digital archives.
Microsoft is being a sport by providing publishers with digital copies of their scanned books and removing its contractual restrictions placed on the digitized library content, but it won't matter. The company is still grasping at straws as Google continues to gain share.
Another thing worth noting: Last December, Google invited me to a Google Book Search event in Manhattan, presumably to be attended with staff from the New York Public Library. The company canceled it due to "scheduling issues."
Now would be as good a time as ever for Google to pick up that ball again and reach out to Microsoft's jilted book and academic search user base, however small it is.