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How About Being Able to Search All the Books in the World?

Over the past spring and summer, Amazon.com created an unrivaled digital archive of more than 33 million pages from 120,000 books. The goal is to quickly add most of Amazon's multimillion-title catalog. The entire collection, which went live Oct. 23, is searchable, and every page is viewable. The Amazon archive is dizzying not because it unearths books that would necessarily have languished in obscurity, but because it renders their contents instantly visible in response to a search. It allows quick query revisions, backtracking and exploration. It provides a new form of map.

Fortunately, mass scanning has grown increasingly feasible, with the cost dropping to as low as $1 each. Amazon sent some of the books to scanning centers in low-wage countries like India and the Philippines; others were run in the United States using specialty machines to ensure accurate color and to handle oversize volumes. But don't think this library will allow you to read books for free online, as you won't be able to view more than a few thousand pages per month, or more than 20 percent of any single book.

Some experts believe that for under $10 million, you can store all published works of humankind back to the Sumerian tablets.

The publishing industry has made great strides since the Roman era. Movable type was invented in 11th-century China, then reinvented in 1450 in Germany. In 1886, Ottmar Mergenthaler created an automatic typesetting machine. In 1983, we got desktop publishing. But publishers continue to edit books using four colors of pencil, and the idea of freely accessible digital files conjures nightmares of a peer-to-peer disaster among media corporations. Things are even going backward--Barnes & Noble recently announced it would stop selling e-books.

This is an absolutely fascinating article, and if you have any interest in this subject I would strongly encourage that you read the entire four-page Wired article. You can play with this new Amazon book search by going to one of my all-time favorite books Getting Things Done and once at that page click on the book and then use the 'Search Inside the Book' feature.

Wired Upcoming December 2003 Issue

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