By Alexandria Sage
Amazon.com on Thursday said it would let readers buy digital pages, chapters and entire books through two plans that present a broad challenge to a controversial strategy of Google Inc.
Amazon pioneered the ability to search inside books on the Web, but Internet search engine Google has attracted more attention recently with its plan to copy contents of several libraries, drawing fire from publishers who see it as a violation of copyright.
The Amazon Pages program, in coordination with publishers, lets users buy Internet access to either a page, chapter or the entirety of a book, while a second program, Amazon Upgrade, gives online access to a work that the consumer buys in physical form for an extra fee.
"We believe that over time this could turn into a significant business for Amazon, significant revenue stream for publishers and authors and a helpful customer service for readers," said Chief Executive Jeff Bezos, who said the programs would launch sometime next year.
Bezos declined to comment on Google's program.
Amazon immediately drew praise from the book industry. The president of the Association of American Publishers, Patricia Schroeder, said Amazon appeared to be complying with copyright laws while Google's actions amounted to "rogue eminent domain."
"If the search engines don't respect the creators, there won't be anything to search in the future because creators have to make a living too," Schroeder said.
Prices for Amazon Pages would vary by publisher and potentially by book, but most would cost a few cents per page, Bezos said. He used an example in the Amazon Upgrade program of a book costing $20 and the online access another $1.99.
"Ultimately for each individual book, pricing will be up to the copyright holders," Bezos said. "The copyright holders are the ones who get to make these decisions."
Since readers must pay to view and download books, Amazon's programs steer clear of the controversy around Google, whose plan to scan copyrighted material in libraries has raised the ire of publishers and writers.
They claim the Google Print Library program, which promises to digitize the book collections of major libraries and allow online users to see just a few lines, will set a precedent opening the door to anyone wanting to digitally duplicate books and deprive authors and publishers of revenues.
Google -- whose program excludes material only from publishers who contact it to opt out -- claims it is organizing and making accessible the world's information and says the program will result in increased awareness and greater sales of the scanned books.
The company unveiled on Thursday its first collection of public domain works, mostly historical and 19th century literary titles.
Google also has a program, in cooperation with some publishers, that is similar to Amazon's feature allowing search inside books.
Yahoo Inc. is also involved in the race over digitized content through a consortium of companies and archives, but its program only accepts copyrighted content from publishers who allow their books to be included.
Amazon's Search Inside the Book program, which launched two years ago, allows readers a glimpse at select pages of text. Fifty percent of Amazon's titles available in hard copy have already been scanned in the program, Bezos said.
Bezos said that besides launching the two search programs, Amazon next year would continue to roll out product categories in its international sites that are currently only found in the United States.
Amazon shares closed up 2 percent on Nasdaq at $41.65.
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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