Tuesday Books Blog Report: Millions of Free e-books, and No More Cursive

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Yesterday was Independence Day -- and it was the start of the sixth annual World eBook Fair. The audacious goal: to provide free public access to 6.5 million e-books over the course of a month.

The fair, which is sponsored by Project Gutenberg, the World Public Library and the Internet Archive among others, celebrates online readership and refers to itself as the Literacy Revolution.

This year's collection includes over a million new e-books. The fair is making available light and heavy reading materials, reference books and tens of thousands of music titles, drawing on contributions from over a hundred e-libraries and 250,000 volunteers, says fair cofounder Michael S. Hart.

The fair is an effort to give away millions of e-books to millions of people and to publicize the world of e-books to the world at large, he writes at Project Gutenberg News.

Start at www.worldebookfair.org, and click on Browse.

Follow the links to download as many books as you want to and please tell your friends. If your friends don't surf yet, please be encouraged to make copies for them, and to let them know what is waiting for them when they do surf, Hart says.

Forty years ago yesterday, Hart created the first e-book, The United States Declaration of Independence, when he typed it into a mainframe. It was downloaded by six people on the pre-Internet of the time, and Project Gutenberg began - Hart's project to create free e-versions of literary works and distribute them around the world. (For more on the history of the project, and old-school computer descriptions from the 1970s, see here.)

From 1971 to 1976 it was an uphill struggle for permission to put The U.S. Constitution online as an e-book because it was so much larger than all the previous eBooks, he blogs at Project Gutenberg News, but it is still standing as one of the great early Net achievements, not only because it was larger than previous ones but also because the person who made it available was anonymous and remained so in spite of all of my efforts to locate and to send my thanks.

But now the amount of free e-books online dwarfs the one title available at Project Gutenberg 40 years ago, Hart says.

Today...one hundred thousand titles available at PG, and 2.1 million available at the World Public Library, and 2.9 million at the Internet Archive, 1.6 million at Wattpad. That's 6.7 million just off the top of my head and without adding in all of the Google e-books, which is hard to do as Google doesn't have an index for counting e-books, he writes.

Reaction is somewhat slight in the blogosphere to the rollout of the 2011 World eBook Fair, but on Twitter, author Alma Alexander calls it great news.

The World eBook Fair is today. Of course, there are no events planned, anywhere, but still ... she writes.

There is plenty of discussion about e-books out there, however. Diamond Publicationz, for one, focuses on Barnes & Noble's recent statement that they sold more e-books than print books in their fourth quarter.

If someone would have told me a few years ago that e-books would outsell physical books I would have rolled my eyes and chucked up the deuces, the blogger says. Now in 2011 I'm starting to believe e-books will kill all physical books.

She adds that a week ago schools in her community decided to stop teaching cursive writing. (It does seem archaic, but that's just me.)

But why stop teaching it if they were not planning on keeping physical books? she points out. Schools are giving 5-year-olds iPads instead of books to do their classroom work on. 5-year-olds? Good luck with that one!

At Annienygma, Annie writes about one of the downsides of print books: their bindings can wear out.

After reading one of her favorite books The Prosperity Bible many times, her worst fear came to pass: the pages are separating from the binding. This is an expensive hardbound book but it could not hold up to the constant reading and moving around that I do.

After considering some of the disadvantages to physical books, especially a large one like The Prosperity Bible, Annie decided to bring her old faithful friend into the digital age, buying a copy at the Kindle Store.

Now my favorite book goes with me to work, where I read it on my breaks and also tucks me into bed at night. I've made much more progress through the 19 books this volume contains as a result of the newfound portability! she writes.

Elsewhere in the books blogosphere today:

? At Writer...Interrupted, Gina Conroy interviews two agents about Tyndale House Publishers' Direct to Ebook Publishing program.

? The Economist weighs in on the latest Borders news with a post entitled, Goodbye to bricks and mortar.

? At Emerging Writer, Kate Dempsey gives readers a seven-step plan for formatting your e-book.

? And finally, Estella of Estella's Revenge used the long weekend to stop reading for once. As she put it, This reading mama took a time out over the weekend.

I'm of the mind that the time we spend away from books is almost as important as the time we spend with books. Sometimes I just want to shut down for a moment and recharge, she says. Now I'm itching to get right back to them!

Edward B. Colby is the Books editor of the International Business Times. He can be reached at e.colby@ibtimes.com.

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