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Website Provides Access to Free Online Books - 2004-07-28

The Internet isn't about to replace your local bookstore or library, but more and more books are showing up online. Project Gutenberg is the grandaddy of online book sites, but there are many others, and the Online Books Page aims to bring together all these resources in one place.

You won't find the latest bestseller on the Online Books Page, but editor John Mark Ockerbloom explains that he founded the site in 1993 to provide links to thousands of free works that are published online.

"There were a number of sites offering freely-available online texts, such as Project Gutenberg, which has been around since the 1970s, but there wasn't really any way to get an overall view of what online books were available out there, so I created a website to give people access to online books at various sites, and it's now grown into a site that features over 20,000 freely-available online books," he says.

Those books are available in a variety of formats. Some are unadorned plain text files, but others are presented as images of the original book. There are Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Zane Grey westerns, 19th century books on Africa, and works by Caesar, Confucius and Shakespeare.

The site is searchable by title, author and subject; and a special page alerts users to the latest additions to the online book collection. Other pages highlight women writers and prize-winners, as well as books that have been banned.

"It's a way of letting people see what material people have considered too dangerous to read and basically raise awareness of censorship issues," he adds.

Most books online are older works no longer protected by copyright, but some newer books are also included. Mr. Ockerbloom says online publishing serves as a useful counterpoint to traditional printed books because of the economics of the book business.

"The vast majority of books that are printed go out of print very quickly," he explains. "In the world of print it's often not profitable to reissue a book if you suspect it's only going to get a small audience. In the online world, though you can have books that are maybe initially [bought by] just a few people, you can have one of those people put the book on line and then it's available to anyone in the world who's interested in that."

Visit John Mark Ockerbloom's Online Books Page at