Someone other than Google is digitizing and selling public domain library books

Last month I blogged about Google partnering with the makers of the Espresso Book Machine to print 2 million public domain works on demand. Yesterday DigitalKoans reported that the New York Public Library has joined the Kirtas Technologies Digitize-on-Demand program to digitize and sell public domain works. Here’s an excerpt from the Kirtas press release:

Readers and researchers looking for hard-to-find books now have the opportunity to dip into the collections of one of the world’s most comprehensive libraries to purchase digitized copies of public domain titles. Through their Digitize-on-Demand program, Kirtas Technologies has partnered with The New York Public Library to make 500,000 public domain works from the Library’s collections available (to anyone in the world).

“New technology has allowed the Library to greatly expand access to its collections,” said Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. “Now, for the first time, library users are able to order copies of specific items from our vast public domain collections that are useful to them. Additionally the program creates a digital legacy for future users of the same item and a revenue stream to support our operations. We are very pleased to participate in a program that is so beneficial to everyone involved.”

Using existing information from NYPL’s catalog records, Kirtas will make the library’s public domain books available for sale through its retail site before they are ever digitized. Customers can search for a desired title on http://www.kirtasbooks.com and place an order for that book. When the order is placed, only then is it pulled from the shelf, digitized and made available as a high-quality reprint or digital file.

What makes this approach to digitization unique is that NYPL incurs no up-front printing, production or storage costs. It also provides the library with a self-funding, commercial model helping it to sustain its digitization programs in the future. Unlike other free or low-cost digitization programs, the library retains the rights and ownership to their own digitized content…

Kirtas currently has 13 partnerships with universities and public libraries to make special collections available for sale online. Virtually any library with a modern records database and valuable collections can participate in the Digitize on Demand program.

This is an interesting model, as books don’t have to be scanned until someone requests a copy, unlike Google’s random and expensive “scan first” method. But the Kirtas Books website (www.kirtasbooks.com) is surprisingly clunky, unattractive, and awkward to use, and it looks like it takes 3 to 4 weeks to have a book scanned (books that have already been scanned are available for instant download). For the titles I’ve browsed, digital files are $1.95, paperbacks are an additional $8.05, and hardcovers are an additional $18.05. The powerful and easy to use Google Book Search (and its free digital files of public domain works) wins hands down, so I don’t see myself using Kirtas Books unless I want a copy of a work that Google hasn’t yet scanned.

Update: A commenter has noted that the book scans done by Kirtas Books are much better than those done by Google. If that’s true, then I may have been too quick to assume that I wouldn’t order from Kirtas unless I couldn’t get something from Google. I should order some books from both Kirtas and the Espresso Book Machine and compare them. (I stand by my criticisms of the Kirtas Books website, and its limited search capabilities don’t compare to Google Book Search. The long wait to have a book scanned is still a problem, as I’m usually under time pressure when doing research for others.)

3 responses to “Someone other than Google is digitizing and selling public domain library books

  1. Great website. Take the time to learn how to get around. You can read any book that has been scanned online for FREE!

  2. I think you missed the mark on this one. I have ordered quite a few books from kirtasbooks.com. Books that have already been poorly digitized by Google. Google’s scanned copies were missing pages, had the scan operator’s hands covering portions of pages, and pages that were so skewed that I was unable to read them.

    kirtabooks.com’s books are always very well done, and complete.

  3. How will the digitizing of books effect public libraries in the future? Will this new technology be available for free at public libraries? And, if the original books being scanned were themselves borrowed from a public library, will the digital version be ‘given’ to that library to help it (the library) step into the digital future? Our public libraries are funded with both public and private contributions, and considering how our economy is in the shitter and probably will be in future, HOW will public libraries afford this new technology and its digitized content? And WHO will decide what titles are relevant & made available to us humans?
    So many questions!!! I’m trying not to go here…BUT, the digital future and the freedom of information bring up scary ideas like ‘those who can afford to learn can’ and questions, ‘Is information only for those with the means?’ and ‘How have our public libraries (with free information/ideas) contributed to our (‘democratic’) society? I wish I’d have the reassurance from companies, like Google, who are digitizing books that they would play an altruistic role & help ushering our public libraries into the future as well. I guess this might be a bit naive. What do you think?

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