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Amazon hobbles full text search

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Amazon.com quietly changed its recently introduced book-searching feature, following concerns by some authors that users could also print out several pages surrounding the places where the phrase appears. Printing is now disabled.

On October 23, the Internet retailer introduced a new feature called Search Inside the Book, which lets users search the complete text of books. In collaboration with publishers, Amazon digitised more than 120,000 books - 33 million pages of searchable text.

Customers interested in ‘resistojet propulsion’ for instance can search for ‘resistojet’ and will automatically see a list of books at Amazon.com that contain this term in the text, in addition to those books that contain the term in the title. The introduction of the feature drove a nine per cent sales increase, Amazon reported last week.

Some 190 publishers are participating, including Time Warner, Wiley, Simon & Schuster, Random House, McGraw-Hill and HarperCollins. Since the launch of the programme, 37 additional publishers have contacted Amazon requesting to participate. Authors, however, are concerned.

Upon testing the new feature, staff from the Authors Guild managed to print out 108 consecutive pages from a bestselling book. The Guild also noted the potential for abuse by college students. At least one student is already bragging that he used the system to print out what he needed, when others, to their chagrin, had bought the book.

'We believe that most authors should sit tight and see what further technical improvements Amazon makes before deciding whether to pull their books from the program,' the Authors Guild writes in a statement. ®

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