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Amazon enters book digitization jungle with rare-book project

Retailer's BookSurge division to partner with libraries and giving them a cut of the revenue generated from selling reproductions of rare books.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy

Amazon.com's BookSurge subsidiary announced Thursday that it has partnered with book digitization company Kirtas Technologies on a project to archive and distribute hard-to-find books. This new initiative involves collaboration with public and university libraries to provide their collections of "rare and inaccessible" books; the titles will be digitized through Kirtas and then reproductions will be sold through Amazon through the BookSurge print-on-demand service.

In return, the partner libraries--initially consisting of Emory University, University of Maine, and the public libraries in Toronto, Ont. and Cincinnati, Ohio--will receive a cut of the revenue to fund further book preservation efforts, provided the titles are in the public domain or the libraries own the rights to them.

"There are thousands of books that have been unavailable altogether or incredibly difficult to find and access," BookSurge general manager David Symonds said in a statement, "so we're thrilled to be making reproductions of these unique, collectible books available to millions of Amazon.com customers."

Amazon purchased BookSurge, which specializes in on-demand printing of out-of-print books, in 2005.

In its short history, book digitization hasn't gone over particularly well with everyone (to put it lightly). The most prominent player, Google Book Search, has come under seemingly endless fire from the publishing industry over copyright issues.