Internet Archive has just unveiled their ambitious project called BookServer, which will allow users to find, buy, or borrow digital books from sources all across the web. The system, built on an open architecture and using open book formats, promises that the books housed there will work on any device whether that's a laptop, PC, smartphone, game console, or one of the myriad of e-Readers like Amazon's Kindle.The
The project's lofty goal is to essentially create an open web of books where anyone can publish their books and make their content available via search.
Any Book, Open Formats
Although still in the early days of development and potentially taking years to complete, the BookServer project will allow search engines to index books from all over the web. What that means for an end user is that you could type a title into a search engine and the engine would return results listing everywhere you could get that book in digital format including online bookstores, libraries, or a direct method from the publisher itself. Depending on your needs, you could borrow the book or purchase it and then download it to your digital device.
While the project isn't exactly a direct effort to take down Amazon's online bookstore or Google's upcoming online eBook store called Google Editions, it will provider book publishers and online libraries with the means to more effectively compete with those companies. By allowing publishers to set their own pricing and manage the distribution of their books, they will be able to take back control from Amazon and Google who would rather dictate those terms for them.
An Open Marketplace for eBooks
A secondary goal of BookServer's open system is to fight back against the proprietary marketplaces, such as Amazon's Kindle Store, where books are only sold in a copyright-protected format (.AZW) that only works on the company's eReader device, the Kindle. Elsewhere, some book sellers use other proprietary formats, others use the open ePub format, and still others distribute books as Adobe PDFs. For consumers, this multitude of choices only leads to confusion. People don't know what formats their particular device can read or where to get them. It brings to mind the similar issues consumers have had with digitally distributed music. To this day, many are still confused about whether their iTunes purchased music can play on other devices or whether tunes purchased from other online MP3 stores will play on their iPods.
While Google promises its Google Editions store will allow anyone to access digital books as long as they have a web browser and internet access, it's still unknown at this time how the company plans to make the digital content available offline. Will it require the use of special web browser plugins to do so? Until Google reveals more about the technical details, it is not possible to know how truly open their online store will be. And even if their store is 100% open, they are still a company whose ultimate goal is to profit from their work of digitizing books. BookServer's goal, on the other hand, is to provide universal access to book data made available in open formats.
Today, a few booksellers have partnered with the BookServer system including Feedbooks, O'Reilly, Adobe, and the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project.