Copyright/OCL Digitisation

Amazon and rare books on demand

A very interesting new development in the digitisation space as reported in The Chronicle (via Siva Vaidhyanathan).

Amazon, which made its name selling books online, is now entering the book-digitizing business.

Like Google and, more recently, Microsoft, Amazon will be making hundreds of thousands of digital copies of books available online through a deal with university libraries and a technology company.

But, unlike Google and Microsoft, Amazon will not limit people to reading the books online. Thanks to print-on-demand technology, readers will be able to buy hard copies of out-of-print books and have them shipped to their homes.

And Amazon will sell only books that are in the public domain or that libraries own the copyrights to, avoiding legal issues that have worried many librarians — and that have prompted publishers to sue Google for copyright infringement.

Whilst I agree with Siva’s argument that this is “a massive privatization of public treasures”, at the same time this activity of effectively republishing, in physical form (via on-demand), can potentially bring older books, especially those that do not already have a large re-print value, to a much larger audience beyond just scholars and researchers.

The privatisation process began long ago with economic rationalist politics and the scaling back of the public sector and public institutions. This has left us in this situation where in some countries only the private sector has the resources and capital to make grand idealistic projects like this a reality – something that used to be the preserve of visionary government (although the reality was often different).

Depending upon the quality of the print on-demand I can also see this opening up a whole new genre of coffee table ‘cultural capital’ enhancing books . . . .

One reply on “Amazon and rare books on demand”

Interesting. I wonder how Amazon’s service will change the overall market for public domain or copyrighted print on demand.

Our Archaeology Service has lots of out-of-print publications, and I’d suggested they could offer them via if the original digital pre-print files are still available and can be put together without too many resources. One to watch.

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