Stop the Scanners: Google halts efforts to digitize old newspapers

May 20, 2011

Google’s has long touted a grand vision of organizing the world’s information. But on Friday, the world’s No.1 Internet search engine acknowledged that not all of that information will make the cut.

The company has put the brakes on a three-year-old project to scan and digitize newspaper archives dating back to the 18th century.

Google said that websurfers can continue to access its existing free online archive of newspapers – the company has digitized more than 3.5 million issues of more than 2,000 newspaper titles worldwide – but the company will no longer add to the collection by scanning old newspapers.

“We don’t plan to introduce any further features or functionality to the Google News Archives, and we are no longer accepting new microfilm or digital files for processing,” Google said in an emailed statement.

The news comes as Google undergoes its biggest management shift in a decade, with co-founder Larry Page replacing Eric Schmidt as CEO in April.

Interestingly, Page is considered to be a big proponent of ambitious “moonshot” projects, such as Google’s similar effort to scan the world’s out-of-print library books (an effort which is currently facing some legal difficulties).

But Google insiders have also said they expect Page to prune the vast number of projects underway at the company, so that Google can focus on the ones with the most promise. And there is increasing pressure from investors over Google’s free-spending ways.

It’s also worth nothing that Google has recently launched several products to help publishers make money from their digital content, such as the One Pass service for selling subscriptions to online magazines and newspapers and the recently-launched electronic bookstore Google eBooks.

Perhaps spending time and money to build a free library of old newsprint doesn’t deliver enough of a return on investment for the new Google.

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