HP's BookPrep could be springboard for book sites

One of the more interesting technologies that Hewlett-Packard showed off at its research event yesterday was HP BookPrep. This service essentially enables consumers to track down and buy any book — even those that have been out of print for years.

HP is using its imaging algorithms to do more than those who simply scan rare books into a digital format. As pictured above, HP can take yellowed or damaged copies of books and, upon scanning them, restore them to the original intended form.

Prakash Reddy, system architect of BookPrep at HP, said the technology can deal with various aging problems or the skewed lettering that happens at the edge of a book’s spine upon scanning. And while Google is currently scanning books into digital form, HP is focusing on making the books look good for high-quality color prints on paper or in a print-ready PDF file.

“We create a digital asset that is ready to print on demand,” he said.

Amazon.com could start selling those books to anyone who can find them. Amazon already has more than 1.2 million books for sale. But Reddy says there are 6.5 million books out of copyright, roughly 32 million more in a kind of legal gray zone, and a total of 90 million that are completely out of print.

I like the idea of how this creates a long tail for books (like my Opening the Xbox book from 2002) that are out of print. It gives consumers a greater variety of choices for reading, and it is a nice complement to services such as Lulu.com or Blurb, which allow anyone to self-publish their own books.

But HP says this service could also get interesting for book publishers and web entrepreneurs.  As an example, HP is working with Applewood Books and the Foodsville web site on a pilot where members of the Foodsville food enthusiast site can order old books (1904 cookbook with recipes for baked squirrel, anyone?). They can also mix and match sections of books to create their own cookbooks and then create a new book.

HP’s researchers in Palo Alto have worked on BookPrep for a year, and it is one of the technologies highlighted at the company’s new HP IdeaLab site. The company’s corporate ventures division is promoting the technology for possible partnerships.

In the long term, the BookPrep platform could help consumers find hard-to-locate items such as newspapers, blog posts, magazines, books, event schedules and special-interest articles. Reddy says he hopes that communities can build interest groups around the technology, as with the Foodsville example.


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