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Internet Archive uncloaks open ebook dream machine

Will Google play?

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The Internet Archive and various like-minded partners have launched an open architecture for selling and lending digital books online, an effort to consolidate the fledgling market for net texts - and give Google a little food for thought.

Dubbed BookServer, the open platform is meant to provide a standard means for booksellers, publishers, libraries, and individual authors to serve texts onto laptops, netbooks, smartphones, game consoles, and specialized ereaders a la the Amazon Kindle. The Archive has already demonstrated an early incarnation of the architecture with the Kindle and Sony's Reader Digital Book.

"The idea of Bookserver is to integrate business models and organizations that actually have fairly different points of view into a structure that allows the selling, giving away, and loaning of books," Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle said during a Monday morning mini-conference where the spec was unveiled.

Based on the RSS-like Open Publication Distribution System (OPDS) standard, Bookserver is still in the early stages of development. But a preliminary version of the architecture is now in place at both the Internet Archive and the Feedbooks etext distributor, while tech-book publisher O'Reilly Media - who helped launch the effort - says it has every intention of adopting the architecture to serve up its own titles.

Bookserver arrives as American book giant prepares its own ebook device and the entire industry continues to chatter over Google's epic Book Search project, an effort to digitize and distribute millions of texts inside the world's leading research libraries. In October, Mountain View settled a lawsuit from American authors and publishers over the project, and the Internet Archive - along with Amazon, Microsoft, and other members of the Open Book Alliance - was far from shy about its opposition to the pact.

The pact creates a "Book Rights Registry" where copyright holders can resolve claims in exchange for a cut of Google's revenues. But it also gives Google a unique right to digitize and sell and post ads against "orphan works" - titles whose rights holders have not come forward. Other organizations could negotiate the rights to works in the Registry, but the Registry alone would have the power to set prices.

Following an investigation by the US Department of Justice, Google and the case's other parties are now working to rewrite the settlement, but Mountain View is pushing ahead with its plans to offer up scanned works to the web at large. Last week, at a conference in Frankfurt, Germany, the company said that next year will see the introduction of its first ebook store, dubbed Google Editions.

The company did not respond to our request for comment on the announcement. But according to a report from Bookseller.com, Editions will allow netizens to purchase books directly from Google and read them on any device with a web browser. Google will keep 37 per cent of the payments, and the rest will go to the publisher. The company will also offer versions of the service that allow retailers and publishers to sell books directly. If a book is published through a third-party retailer, the publisher will take 45 percent of the payment, with the remaining 55 per cent split between Google and the retailer. It's unclear how the split would work if the publisher is selling directly through the service.

The service would provide a "cloud library," where buyers could access their texts online after purchasing - provided they can get online. But once they're accessed on a particular device, copies will be cached locally.

Meanwhile, the likes of Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Noble, and others have opened their own online ebook stores, and each has, shall we say, its own ebook philosophy. Whereas Google says its Editions service will serve up titles for reading on any web browser, for instance, Amazon's store only offers titles encoded with the company's DRM-ified .AZW format and the unprotected mobipocket format on which AZW is based. And there are countless other formats in use, from various proprietary creations to the open ePub format to good ol' Adobe PDFs.

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