The generous souls at Project Gutenberg opened a new venue supplementing their traditional collection of public domain classics. (And, by the way, that collection of usually all the works, even minor ones, of major authors and the major works of minor authors now runs more than 40,000.) But what about contemporary works, particularly by people who have not found or perhaps do not want to go with traditional publishers? Now Project Gutenberg has opened a separate collection and discovery area for such works referred to as a Self-Publishing Portal. Anyone can access and search the site to view and/or download documents. If the reader chooses to register with Project Gutenberg, as all the authors have, they can participate in the Authors Community Cloud Library and post comments, feedback, ratings, and reviews. A book details page and Wall will attach this social network style input for other readers to see.
According to John Guagliardo, long-time volunteer at Project Gutenberg and a director of the Gutenberg Consortia Center, as well as of the World Public Library Association, the new service stems from years of receiving “tons of requests” from unpublished authors. In fact, the new service has been in development for more than 4 years, according to Guagliardo. Michael S. Hart, the late founder of Project Gutenberg, had the new service ready to launch in August 2011. His sudden, tragic death at that time led the Gutenberg team to temporarily shelve the launch. The official launch on July 4, 2012 may have a sentimental connection to the date of what Gutenberg people consider the first ebook ever, Hart’s offering of a digitized Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1971.
In any case, the new service fits with Project Gutenberg’s stated mission of encouraging “the creation and distribution of electronic books.” The new Portal represents the first time that Project Gutenberg has produced a service focused solely on the distribution of ebooks, rather than their creation through digitization of paper books. Again all access is free and open to all and contributing authors pay no charges either. Registration is only required for inputting to the system—both for authors and commenting readers. All postings are monitored “and offensive or indecent postings will not be approved.”
Authors interested in posting to the Self-Publishing Portal upload documents in PDF format. This is the only format that the new service will use. The announcement of the new service alludes to the compatibility of PDFs with iPad, Kindle, and other e-readers. Some commentators have questioned the Kindle compatibility, but Guagliardo pointed out that only the earliest versions of Kindle (Kindle 1 and Kindle 2) required a proprietary format. Since Kindle 3’s appearance 3 to 4 years ago, Guagliardo observed, PDF compatibility has been no problem for people buying the later versions of the e-reader. Speaking of formats, though ebooks are clearly the focus of the new repository, Guagliardo stated that they also accept other content formats such as MP3, for example, an author submitting a reading as an audiobook, and standard video, for example, to present an interview with an author or a discussion group session.
For readers accessing the Portal/Library, two search options are available, like the two available on the main Project Gutenberg site. According to Guagliardo, one search engine focuses on the metadata attached to ebooks, e.g., author, title, subject, summary, while the other searches the full text. The metadata search engine operates immediately when an item is added to the collection, while full-text coverage may take a couple of weeks. The full-text search engine service comes as a donation to Project Gutenberg of the Anacleto search engine from a company called Tesuji operating off servers in Italy. Though both search engines will work for the Self-Publishing Portal, Guagliardo indicated that Project Gutenberg had no plans to merge discovery services for the two collections. Such a change would require careful and, possibly, lengthy consideration by committees representing the community of Project Gutenberg volunteers.
Authors who contribute to the new repository retain all their rights to their works. Guagliardo repeatedly stated that Project Gutenberg had no ownership nor any transfer of ownership (e.g., through a perpetual license). The content is not public domain, nor even necessarily offered under a Creative Commons license. If an author chooses to submit their ebook to another repository, that is their choice. If an author finds a commercial publisher and chooses to withdraw their ebook from the Project Gutenberg site, that too is their choice. If an author wants to revise their work and submit a new version, Project Gutenberg will comply. But whatever resides on the Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Portal is there to be shared with readers “for personal study and non-commercial sharing.”
Due to some previous attempts to handle requests for self-publications, the Project Gutenberg Self-Publishing Portal already has nearly 700 ebooks on its “virtual shelves.” More on the way? We’ll see.