SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft said Friday that it was ending a project to scan millions of books and scholarly articles and make them available on the Web, a sign that it is retrenching in some areas of Internet search in the face of competition from Google, the industry leader.
The announcement, made on a company blog, comes two days after Microsoft said it would focus its Internet search efforts on certain areas where it sees an opportunity to compete against Google. On Wednesday, Microsoft unveiled a program offering rebates to users who buy items that they find using the company’s search engine.
Some search experts said Microsoft’s decision to end its book-scanning effort suggested that the company, whose search engine has lagged far behind those of Google and Yahoo, was giving up on efforts to be comprehensive.
“It makes you wonder what else is likely to go,” said Danny Sullivan, editor in chief of the blog Search Engine Land. “One of the reasons people turn to Google is that it tries to be a search player in all aspects of search.”
Mr. Sullivan said that the number of people using book search services from Microsoft and Google was relatively small, but it included librarians, researchers and other so-called early adopters who often influence others. These users are now likely to turn to Google with increasing frequency, he said.
Both Microsoft and Google have been scanning older books that have fallen into the public domain, as well as copyright-protected books under agreements with some publishers. Google also scans copyrighted works without permission so it can show short excerpts to searchers, an approach that has drawn fire from publishers.
Microsoft’s decision also leaves the Internet Archive, the nonprofit digital archive that was paid by Microsoft to scan books, looking for new sources of support. Several major libraries said that they had chosen to work with the Internet Archive rather than with Google, because of restrictions Google placed on the use of the new digital files.
“We’re disappointed,” said Brewster Kahle, chairman of the Internet Archive. Mr. Kahle said, however, that his organization recognized that the project, which has been scanning about 1,000 books each day, would not receive corporate support indefinitely. Mr. Kahle said that Microsoft was reducing its support slowly and that the Internet Archive had enough money to keep the project “going for a while.”
“Eventually funding will come from the public sphere,” Mr. Kahle said.
Some libraries that work with the Internet Archive and Microsoft also said they planned to continue their book-scanning projects.
“We certainly expect to go on with this,” said Carole Moore, chief librarian at the University of Toronto. “Corporate sponsors are interested in whatever works for their commercial interests and their shareholders. Long-term preservation is not something you can look to the commercial sector to provide. It is what research libraries have always done.”
Microsoft acknowledged on its blog that commercial considerations played a part in its decision to end the program.
“Given the evolution of the Web and our strategy, we believe the next generation of search is about the development of an underlying, sustainable business model for the search engine, consumer and content partner,” Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s senior vice president for search, portal and advertising, wrote on the blog.
Microsoft said it had digitized 750,000 books and indexed 80 million journal articles.
Google, which works with libraries like the New York Public Library and those at Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan and Oxford, said it had scanned more than a million books. It plans to scan 15 million in the next decade. Google makes the books it scans freely available through its search engine but does not allow other search engines to use its database.
“We are extremely committed to Google Book Search, Google Scholar and other initiatives to bring more content online,” said Adam Smith, product management director at Google.
John Markoff contributed reporting.
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