A new ebook resource has launched with a familiar sounding name—Gutenberg.com (www.gutenberg.com). It bills itself as "a central resource for ebook lovers, ebook newbies, and the ebook industry." Note the .com domain—it is important. The site is not linked in any way to the well-known Project Gutenberg at www.gutenberg.org or to gutenberg.net, gutenberg.cc, or gutenberg.us (the Project Gutenberg Consortia Center). If you thought keeping track of the Project Gutenberg sites and relationships was complex before, there’s definitely a new wrinkle. If you type that URL incorrectly using the .com, instead of finding free ebooks to download, you’ll end up at the new informational site run by marketing consultant and executive producer Chris Andrews, who made his name in the CD-ROM and streaming media businesses.
Actually, Gutenberg.com is not a new site, but it has launched with a new focus and content. Andrews acquired the domain in 2004 from a Canadian firm called Gutenberg Internet Services, Inc. By May 2005, the URL pointed visitors to www.chrisandrews.com. Then, during 2006, the site featured ebook content from the Project Gutenberg Consortia Center, run by the World eBook Literary Consortia, which eventually disappeared. The site linked for awhile to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany, and then back to www.chrisandrews.com. Andrews says he was trying to determine the direction he wanted to take. He also indicated that "a number of people" had expressed interest in acquiring the domain, but he didn’t want to sell. And then, in November 2008, it appeared as a beta of its current implementation. Finally, on Feb. 9, 2009, Gutenberg.com officially launched as "a new central information resource and social network for the ebook community." At the launch, Andrews also announced an agreement with the Gutenberg Museum for a special section on Gutenberg.com that will pay tribute to the history and culture of the book.
At this time, the site appears to be in a very early development stage—the content is quite thin and, the last time I checked, nothing had been posted in a week. It offers sections on ebook readers, ebook content, the industry, the technology, and editorials. (Several industry observers privately called it a hodgepodge with not much format or substance yet.) The content from the Gutenberg Museum should be added to the site soon. The site offers a weekly email update. Andrews has also built a social network on Ning for Gutenberg.com (http://gutenbergcom.ning.com). There’s also a Facebook discussion group designed to generate buzz (www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=55671000785), which currently has 118 members and 10 discussion topics.
Andrews says this latest initiative is a logical progression for him. In his previous work, he saw himself serving as a bridge between the consumer and the confusing information-based technologies coming to the market. Just as digital media products were emerging, Andrews founded UniDisc, a multimedia publisher that developed some of the first consumer interactive CD-ROM products, including the Guinness Disc of Records. He also founded Livecast, an early webcasting company that developed a production console for large-scale live event broadcasting. Andrews says that the ebook industry "is following a very close parallel to other industries I have been involved with, and right now it’s in a wonderful state of confusion, looking for clarity." He adds, "I am not a proponent of technology, I never [have] been. I am a proponent of doing things right when it appears a new technology really has something to offer the world, society, etc."
Andrews is also aware that he walks a fine line with the new site: "I don’t hide my enthusiasm, but I try to package it with good solid information/perspective." Andrews recently published an article on Gutenberg.com titled "20 Reasons Why 2009 Will Be the Year of the Ebook." His article details cultural, technological, and business reasons why he believes the ebook industry will gel and break out into the mainstream in 2009. "2009 will birth this dynamic new industry." He says he intends to "understand the market by talking to the market."
Interestingly, Andrews writes on the site that "Project Gutenberg and Gutenberg.com are not affiliated, though we have enjoyed very friendly relations in the past, including at one time working with the Project Gutenberg Consortia Center to place thousands of Project Gutenberg ebooks here at Gutenberg.com." However, neither Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, nor John Guagliardo of the World Public Library and operator of the Project Gutenberg Consortia Center, would comment for this article about Gutenberg.com.
I asked David Rothman, who founded the TeleRead blog in May 2002 (www.teleread.org), what he thought of Gutenberg.com, but he hadn’t heard of it. Since TeleRead is about "News & views on e-books, libraries, publishing, and related topics," it could be considered somewhat a competitor to Gutenberg.com. Rothman says his main focus has been on promoting well-stocked, national digital library systems, as well as advancing the cause of ebook standards and battling against DRM. (TeleRead actually dates from the early 1990s when Rothman wrote about his TeleRead plan for Computerworld.)
Andrews is confident he will find ways to monetize the Gutenberg.com site. It already includes Google ads, and he is hoping for some organizational support and "some creative sponsorships."
Andrews is definitely high-energy and very passionate about his interests. The same day he launched Gutenberg.com, he also launched a new site called UserGenerated.com (http://usergenerated.com), which claims to be "the new home on the web for creators and producers of User Generated Content." It will include information, tools, and services for expanding the marketing, distribution, and sales opportunities for user-generated content. Its tagline is "Building The User Generated Economy." And, if that’s not enough work for this busy marketing professional, he still has some other sites he directs, specifically Mozartian.com (http://mozartian.com) and IdeaFreak.com (www.ideafreak.com).
Ebooks are clearly a growing segment of the book market that otherwise appears to be quite challenged. According to research published by the American Association of Publishers (AAP; www.publishers.org/main/IndustryStats/documents/S12007Final.pdf), ebooks turned in a compound annual sales growth rate of 55.7 % between 2002 and 2007, versus a feeble, overall trade book growth rate of only 2.5 %. The association’s most recent figures, reported in late January, are even more dramatic, with overall book sales down by 4.4 % for the year, while ebook sales increased 63.8 % for the year.
Patricia Schroeder, president and CEO of the AAP, says, "For folks who want to know more about ebooks, they should go to Gutenberg.com. It’s a great new central information resource for book lovers."
There’s a lot of interest in the new ebook readers, such as the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader, and others. And publishers are certainly picking up on the new book distribution channel. Andrews hopes the public’s growing interest in this new market will lead them to explore his new resource and participate in the conversation. Whether there’s enough there to inform people and keep their interest, however, is yet to be determined.