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Free E-Books at the Fair
Posted On July 1, 2006
Starting July 4, a new online World eBook Fair that is designed to provide "the largest showcase for eBooks, eBook publishers, editors, and others working in the new world of eBooks" will launch. Sponsored by the oldest and largest free e-book source on the Internet, Project Gutenberg (with the assistance of the World eBook Library and a number of other e-book efforts), the month-long celebration (July 4-Aug. 4) will offer one-third of a million e-books to the public for free downloading.

Each year from 2006 to 2009, the World eBook Fair promises to bring a growing number of e-books to the public from July 4 through Aug. 4:

  • 2006: 1/3 million
  • 2007: 1/2 million
  • 2008: 3/4 million
  • 2009: 1 million

The choice of the July 4 date is fitting: It marks the 35th anniversary of the first step taken toward today's e-books. (The U.S. Declaration of Independence was the first file placed online for downloading.)

Project Gutenberg e-books—which now number 20,000—are always free of charge from, (Project Gutenberg of Australia), and (Project Gutenberg Europe). In addition, the World eBook Library sponsors Project Gutenberg's Consortia Center (, where entire collection providers around the world make many e-book libraries available in their entirety.

The World eBook Library, a member-supported service, offers unrestricted access to its collection of more than 250,000 e-books, documents, and articles. The World eBook Library normally charges $8.95 per year for online access and allows unlimited permanent downloading. During the World eBook Fair, all of these books are available free of charge through a gateway at

Most Project Gutenberg files are plain text, but some are HTML. The preferred formats are those that are open and editable. Titles from the World eBook Library are in PDF.

Organizers hope the fair will help promote e-book awareness, disseminate e-books more broadly, and encourage increasing levels of literacy and reading. The site states, "We hope you and yours will find lifetimes of reading materials to expand your horizons over the years." The site also encourages people to contribute e-books to the fair.

Project Gutenberg is also making it even easier to get hold of its texts. The group is now offering the "Build Your Own Public Library" DVD. The DVD image is available online at It contains about 20,000 books, which would take up two-thirds of the space on a single DVD. So, it would have "room for you to select e-books from the rest of the Internet to fill out those last 1/3 at your pleasure."

Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg, never seems to tire of pushing his vision of providing e-books for the world, hailing the achievements of the many volunteers who contribute and making predictions for how many e-books can be given away. Though, as he said, "I've been making predictions about e-books from 1971 on—and no one has ever believed me—so why start now?"

He recently wrote: "I personally DARE Google or Yahoo or anyone else to make eBooks available to the general public at this rate. I would LOVE to lose, because that would mean this world would have at least TWO million free eBooks [by] July 4, 2009."

A recent Project Gutenberg newsletter referred to other high-visibility digital text initiatives, calling it a case of "David versus Googliath":

Google and Yahoo are each multibillion dollar brands, and each have a host of multibillion dollar libraries as business partners, while The World eBook Library's collection is made up of donations from 100 libraries you probably never heard of, and Project Gutenberg is made up totally of volunteer eBook makers. Google's eBook total is finally approaching 1% of the stated goal of 10 million eBooks in 25% of the period of 6 years laid out 18 months ago in the media blitz. If you combine their total with Yahoo's, perhaps that would get them to 1% of that 10 million.

Just recently, Microsoft announced that the libraries of the University of California and the University of Toronto will participate in the Open Content Alliance (OCA) book-scanning project, which is known as Windows Live Book Search. Yahoo! participates in the OCA, along with many U.S. and Canadian university libraries, The Internet Archive, Hewlett-Packard Labs, Adobe Systems, and many other companies and organizations. Meanwhile, Google's book scanning project continues to meet with opposition from some publishers who don't like Google's "scan first, ask later" assumption.

By the way, I found it interesting that "Scan This Book," the recent, much-discussed article by Kevin Kelly in The New York Times (May 14 Magazine;, discussed Google repeatedly but didn't even mention Project Gutenberg, the OCA, or several other worthy projects.

Congratulations to Hart and Project Gutenberg on the 35th anniversary of helping worthy texts find a digital outlet.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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