For a while, Amazon has had "Look Inside the Book", that lets shoppers see images of a few pages of the book, and "Search Inside the Book", that lets shoppers search for keywords in the text of books.
Amazon is taking the next step toward online access of books. According to their press release, Amazon Upgrade will let shoppers buy both a physical copy of the book and access to an online copy of the entire book. Amazon Pages will let shoppers buy online access to individual chapters or even individual pages from a book. Fun stuff, particularly useful for technical books, I'd expect.
The big question is coverage. "Search Inside the Book" is only available for a fraction of Amazon's catalog. I suspect many publishers be even more skittish about Amazon Upgrade and Amazon Pages, making it much less useful.
Stepping back for a second and looking at this from a consumer's point of view, what would be ideal is if I could access the full text of every book I own online at Amazon for no additional charge. Search it, read it from anywhere, full online access. Something like that certainly would make me visit Amazon more frequently and buy a lot more books.
Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. When I buy a book or a CD, I typically think that I'm buying the right to enjoy that creative work for personal use. But, if I understand the debate correctly, many publishers argue that I'm only buying the right to that particular copy of the material, not to any other copies, and that I have to pay again if I want a copy of the work in a different format.
MP3.com, back in the late 1990's, actually had a service that let you access your music library online. If you could prove you owned a CD, they let you access an MP3 of the music from that CD. For this blasphemy, they were pummeled by an orgy of litigation until they fell screaming into dot-com oblivion.
Amazon Upgrade isn't going to let me access my whole library online, but it's a small step closer. I wonder if Amazon will take us the rest of the way down this path.
Update: Just a few days later, word leaks out that Google is talking to publishers about a new service that would let people rent an online copy of a book for a week for 10% of the cover price. [via TechDirt]