Microsoft (Quote) is ready to let users start poking around the stacks.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company announced that it will release the beta version of its Live Search Books application tomorrow.
This is an important part of the company's strategy to turn its Windows Live platform, which it just took out of beta in the last few days, into a hub of experiences that create customer loyalty, thereby driving incremental advertising revenue gains.
Windows Live offers consumer-oriented services and software, and is being offered alongside the MSN portal as a complementary service. The MSN search engine has begun to redirect users to Live Search.
Microsoft undertook the mammoth task of scanning tens of thousands of books from various universities around the world last year.
Currently, Live Book Search returns queries on books that are no longer protected by copyright.
Next year, it will include books that are currently under copyright protection as well.
That, Microsoft hopes, will make its users come back more often.
Indeed, Steve Berkowitz, vice president of Microsoft's online services group, stated that search is critical to keeping MSN and Live users glued to Microsoft's online properties.
"The goal is to turn search into a utility and stop them from leaving the system," he said at a Lehman Brothers technology conference yesterday.
"If we can take our 465 million unique visitors and turn them into multiple service users, the incremental marginal revenue is hugely profitable," he said.
Cliff Guren, director of publisher evangelism for Live Search Books at Microsoft, agreed that Live Search Books is intended to make the Live search engine more sticky.
"It's how we will aggregate a big audience over time," he told internetnews.com.
The company is also increasing its inventory of content.
Guren said the company just added the New York Public Library and the American Museum of Veterinary Medicine to its roster of libraries participating in the out-of-copyright scanning program, and has also updated its Live Search Academic product with millions of new articles, mostly bio-medical content.
In the early going, consumers will need to choose the Live book "scope" in order to get search results from books. Scopes are links allowing users to refine their searches according to various media or categories, such as books, video and news.
Eventually, however, general search queries on Live will include books alongside more traditional online content.
Guren said that his team will be phasing in the integration of book content into general search, first with Instant Answers, and later into core search results.
"It's not a transition that happens overnight," he said.
Instant Answers appear at the top of a search results page when Microsoft has a high level of confidence that they've identified the correct material.
Live Book Search began scanning books still under copyright protection in May.
Beginning sometime next year, the search engine will deliver content from those books as search results, but only with the publishers' consent.
"Publishers can choose from three different preview rights models and can set parameters to display as much or as little content as they want," said Guren.
This contrasts with Google's (Quote) more peremptory approach, which has led to litigation on the part of libraries and publishers alike.
Berkowitz also went out of his way to say that Microsoft wants content producers as partners.
The former Ask.com executive said his strategy is to market the Microsoft platform to its existing user base.
Microsoft, he said, has traditionally marketed itself as a technology company, and must now learn to market itself as an experience.
"Our underlying technology is superior, but this is not a game where just the right technology will win," he said.