When it comes to discussions of Microsoft and Google, Microsoft is usually seen as having to play catch up. This week, it's Microsoft that's jumped out front with a move that's so obvious I've been writing about it since 2004! I actually went to the Internet Archive to check, since I update most of my pages frequently, and sure enough, I thought that the scanning programs represented by Amazon's Search Inside and Google Books meant that one of those companies would put one and one together and offer copyright holders print-on-demand fulfillment and revenues.
As time went on, Amazon bought BookSurge and has moved into print-on-demand in a big way, but if they announced a POD availability option for Search Inside titles, I missed it. Likewise, the long delayed e-book sales option of Google Books seemed like a logical step in the on-demand direction, but somehow got stalled. So Microsoft with their Live Search Books program has leapfrogged the competition by partnering with the Ingram Digital Group. While the ebook side of that particular equation doesn't excite me very much, Ingram will give publishers the option to use Lightning Source for POD fulfillment of digitized titles. Whether they'll expand that option from publishers to rights-holders wasn't clear in the press announcement, but as they say in the intellectual property business, "Where there's a Will, there's a way."
What I really don't understand is why it's taken so long. I suppose none of the major players saw print-on-demand production and sales of out-of-print titles as a big enough business to pursue aggressively. What Google may have missed, despite the huge amount of effort that's gone into the development and legal defense of their Books program, is the opportunity to become the go-to site for books on the web. The knowledge that finding a book on Live Search Books will sometimes mean being able to procure that book on paper may be more than enough to compensate for the differing scopes of the two programs.