The pace of change in the books space is hotting up. Two weeks ago Amazon announced that its Kindle will be internationally available. Google last week at Frankfurt announced its Google Editions proposition (or perhaps we should say they re-announced it). In three weeks Google has an appointment with Judge Chin on November 9, to re-present its much discussed Google Books Search Settlement. Techcrunch had a piece on 24 Android phones (some of which are admittedly merely rumoured, but most of which will be touted for reading books). Yesterday Barnes and Noble presented their new Nook, eReader. And the day before yesterday the Internet Archive (with several collaborators) announced its BookServer project.
The BookServer proposition seems to be very much a work in progress. Thinking on the hoof and probably a fair bit of smoke and mirrors (see Peter Brantley’s Web of Books presentation and Roy Tennant’s blog) . But one aspect of it feels a great deal more right than the Google Books Search proposition in its various forms. The architecture is essentially and deliberately open and multipolar:
As the audience for digital books grows, we can evolve from an environment of single devices connected to single sources into a distributed system where readers can find books from sources across the Web to read on whatever device they have. Publishers are creating digital versions of their popular books, and the library community is creating digital archives of their printed collections. BookServer is an open system to find, buy, or borrow these books, just like we use an open system to find Web sites. (Internet Archive’s BookServer page)
This is a good central position around which the Internet Archive can build its coalition. But it would seem that they may end up with some unlikely allies. They are following the path of, and working with, Lexcycle’s Stanza (now Amazon owned) in their strategy of orchestrating, coalescing access to formatted ePUB files, and one wonders whether the BookServer backers will fill their obvious lack of full text search through an alliance with Microsoft’s Bing. There are indeed some interesting challenges for Microsoft and Amazon as they contemplate whether to address Google’s potentially massive lead in proprietary book aggregation by making a more Open alliance with the Internet Archive and other champions of free and open. If the Internet Archive can maintain its footing in a genuinely open and independent position (which includes encouraging Google to spider and search, as well as Bing), it has a good chance of establishing the crucial principles that it articulates. It has a good chance of being more open to innovation than Google.