Free Content

Dutch startup Sweek—a free reading and writing platform—welcomes 100,000th user

From a Sweek press release:

Sweek, a platform for free reading and writing, has welcomed its 100,000th user last week, since the official launch at the Frankfurt Book Fair seven months ago. Meanwhile, readers and writers from over 100 countries are already using Sweek. Both aspiring and top authors have joined Sweek, and traditional publishers are starting to use Sweek as a talent-scouting platform. Continue reading Dutch startup Sweek—a free reading and writing platform—welcomes 100,000th user

Library for All — not another ebook collection, but rather an idea

It has been a pleasure and an honor to write about various free ebook collections for the No Shelf Required community. I believe we share a number of commonalities about  reading and ways to make it more accessible apart from historical models  based on a buyer-customer relationship. The nine free e-collections I profiled thusfar have various models by which they operate, but all wish to disseminate information outside of  traditional methods.  And, to go a step further, I would be safe to assume that those of us who read NSR, share Mirela Roncevic’s passion to bypass the corporatized process by which print or electronic books are made available worldwide.  From our perspective, Mirela’s efforts to show that a country in its entirety can be a “Free Reading Zone” were not merely experimental, but could well be the leading edge of a future norm. Thus it is, dear readers, that, in my tenth post, I want to present you with not another collection, but rather an idea. Continue reading Library for All — not another ebook collection, but rather an idea

Time travel with the ancient aural art

Among the literary arts, poetry almost always needs oral performance to bring even the solitary reader close to the text. In efforts to record poetry, too its authors almost always are the best choices for performing their own works. This week, take a poetry break and learn about lives and dreams from the mouths of the poets giving their literary art immediacy, whether you are generations away or remember seeing their lines in print.

Amiri Baraka read at the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Decker Library, 14 September 1992, an occasion and performance preserved in its entirety. The MICA Archives include more than 100 readings and lectures by poets and artists. Many of the recordings here were made at local performances in Decker Library, including this 1973 reading by Allen Ginsberg. Listening to Baraka and Ginsberg across a quarter- and nearly a half-century offers something more compelling than nostalgia: these poets committed vestiges of their immediate social and political contexts to sounds that resonate with listeners in the here and now.

Recording of William Carlos Williams are preserved at the University of Pennsylvania’s PennSound Center. These tiny, literally seconds-long audios offer him reading his “The Red Wheelbarrow,” on three different occasions, spanning 1942 to 1952. One poet, one poem, and three different pacings give listeners the opportunity to appreciate how each time we express ourselves, the expression is just a bit different, perhaps easier—or more difficult—for the listener to access. PennSound also contains a treasure trove of Adrienne Rich reading her works on a great number of occasions, including this 1988 poem, “Divisions of Labor,” that speaks of matters that continue to be trenchant nearly 30 years on. Also available at PennSound, Francisco X. Alarcón’s “Letter to America”, published first in 1991, is indeed an anthem for today, both in word and performance. Continue reading Time travel with the ancient aural art, an alternative niche for free quality content (including ebooks) in the arts and humanities

At this point in our journey into major sources of free ebooks, we are able to see that some of the collections operate as academic consortia, some use board members to set policies, and still others strive to be a true community of  users (e.g., Unglue.It). This week, we will again focus on the last group because my sense is that this approach to sharing knowledge is where the sympathies of those advocating true free access are. Therefore, I’ve chosen

Eserver is (justifiably) proud of its community and describes itself this way: The EServer is a growing online community where hundreds of writers, artists, editors and scholars gather to publish works as open archives, available free of charge to readers.

In a publishing industry dominated by corporate publishing of books and ebooks, value is placed on works that sell to broad markets. Quick turnover, high-visibility marketing campaigns for bestsellers, and corporate “superstore” bookstores have all made it difficult for unique and older texts to be published. (Further, the costs this marketing adds to all books discourage people from leisure reading as a common practice.) And publishers tend to encourage authors to write books with strong appeal to the current, undermining (if unknowingly) writings with longer-term implications. Continue reading, an alternative niche for free quality content (including ebooks) in the arts and humanities

De Gruyter and major university presses make 500 books and journal articles across nine topical areas free through 2017

As part of their “Rights, Action and Social Responsibility” initiative, De Gruyter and a number of university presses are making books and journal articles across nine topical areas freely available (to download in PDF) until the end of 2017 on, more precisely here.

The topical areas included in the initiative are:  Constitutional History, Dissent, Truth & Ethics, Environmental Studies, Gender Studies, Geopolitics, Human Rights, Immigration & Urbanism and Islamic Studies.

The content includes more than 500 books and selected journal articles from Columbia University Press, Cornell University Press, Harvard University Press, Princeton University Press, University of Pennsylvania Press, Transcript-Verlag and De Gruyter. Access the content via this link.

Broadening access to these areas of scholarship enables more people, including non-academics, to address these issues in an informed manner: it helps to combat false news sources, to reflect on the nature of truth and ethics, and to understand the struggles of all members of society.

“Public debates surrounding immigration policy, climate change, international relations, and constitutional and human rights are currently at the forefront of the national discourse, especially, but not only, in the United States. Together, De Gruyter and its partners are keen to support a thoughtful and informed debate on these sensitive and serious issues,” said Steve Fallon, Director Publishing Partner Program.

Knowledge Unlatched, supported by libraries, and made available in PDF to any reader, anywhere in the world

This week, I’d like to highlight Knowledge Unlatched (KU),  a nonprofit in the U.K. that “offers a global library consortium approach to funding open access books” (according to Wikipedia). It shares a number of similarities with the HathiTrust Digital Library, featured on NSR last week, and provides a backdrop to KU’s business model.

KU began in 2012, after two years of exploratory work by founder Frances Pinter, who has owned a publishing house since 1973 (when she was 23). The Wiki on KU details its beginnings and growth, also well-covered in two blog posts (Griffith University and The Bookseller). What is of particular interest is that both collections rely on consortia of universities and colleges to maintain their services. Continue reading Knowledge Unlatched, supported by libraries, and made available in PDF to any reader, anywhere in the world

A necessary reminder: Sci-Hub continues to grow and more and more of its users attend affluent universities

“A research paper is a special publication written by scientists to be read by other researchers. Papers are primary sources necessary for research – for example, they contain detailed description of new results and experiments. Papers we have in our library: more than 58,000,000 and growing.”

So states the homepage of Sci-Hub, “the first pirate website in the world to provide mass and public access to tens of millions of research papers.” Just who is downloading all these pirated papers? According to this article in Science Magazine, which is almost a year old but still intriguing and highly recommended to NSR readers not familiar with the unstoppable force of Sci-Hub: EVERYONE. Continue reading A necessary reminder: Sci-Hub continues to grow and more and more of its users attend affluent universities

HathiTrust Digital Library, a major source of open scholarship with legal issues seemingly behind it

This week, we take a closer look at the HathiTrust Digital Library. This collection is likely the most oriented towards academic researchers, largely because it was the product of 13 universities that made up the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (renamed the Big Ten Academic Alliance last year) and the University of California.

The Trust began in 2008 as the result of the digitization of “orphan books,” which started in 2004 by the Google Books Library Project and now consists of a partnership of 60 research libraries located in Canada, Europe and the U.S. (See The University of Michigan currently provides the infrastructure on which the digital content resides. The collection includes 15 million volumes, of which about half are books. Of those 7.5 million books, 5.8 million are in the public domain. Continue reading HathiTrust Digital Library, a major source of open scholarship with legal issues seemingly behind it

Smashwords, where indie authors may price their books at ‘free,’ but ‘free’ isn’t the core mission

smashwordsThe focus of this week’s Free Content Alert column is ebook distributor Smashwords, which occupies a unique niche in the world of free ebook collections in that its focus is indie ebooks. As stated on Smashwords’ website:

Smashwords is the world’s largest distributor of indie ebooks.  We make it fast, free and easy for any author or publisher, anywhere in the world, to publish and distribute ebooks to the major retailers  and thousands of libraries. Continue reading Smashwords, where indie authors may price their books at ‘free,’ but ‘free’ isn’t the core mission

World Public Library, an impressive collection of free books and documents but a cumbersome registration process

WPL logo

We can see at this point in our Free Content ‘tour’ that ‘free’ ebook (or econtent) collections online are based on various premises (e.g., a true nonprofit or a quasi-nonprofit) and take different approaches to issues such as the need to register with the site, as well the ability to download items from the site. As I’ve learned more about DRM and ebook platforms over the past few years, I’ve also learned that the variations in how these collections operate are considerable and speak to models of access.

With that in mind, this week’s focus is on the World Public Library—a service that, contrary to the others considered so far in NSR’s Free Content Alerts (see Project Gutenberg, Bookzz, and Internet Archive posts), requires disclosing personal information to obtain an “e-Libray card”. Continue reading World Public Library, an impressive collection of free books and documents but a cumbersome registration process

ProQuest launches free access to its databases for researchers affected by travel ban


Kudos to ProQuest for this.

From a ProQuest press release:

No-charge access to ProQuest databases helps individuals continue their research and learning

ProQuest has launched a program to provide no-cost access to its databases for students and researchers who have been separated from their universities and libraries because of travel bans or other immigration changes. The company has an email hotline where these displaced researchers can arrange for access to the materials they need to continue their work.

“ProQuest is an open and inclusive organization that takes its role in supporting research and learning very seriously,” said Kurt Sanford, ProQuest CEO. “We’re doing whatever we can to mitigate the interruptions facing our community of students and scholars around the world.” Continue reading ProQuest launches free access to its databases for researchers affected by travel ban

Internet Archive, a nonprofit offering an overwhelming amount of free content (and triggering some copyright debates)


internet archive

This week’s Free Content Alert column considers the Internet Archive, and it’s a bit complex. Not that I want it to be, but it typifies DRM issues. If you bear with me, I believe you’ll find the result worthwhile.

First, the straightforward part: Internet Archive (IA)  is a true nonprofit, founded in 1996, and headquartered in San Francisco. According to a lengthy wiki on IA, its size was 15 petabytes. (A petabyte is 10 to the fifteenth power in bytes, or a million gigs.) Its stated mission is to provide “universal access to all knowledge.” The basic stats are staggering. Wiki continues,

It provides free public access to collections of digitized materials, including websites, software applications/games, music, movies/videos, moving images, and nearly three million public-domain books…In addition to its archiving function, the         Archive  is an activist organization, advocating for a free and open Internet. The Internet Archive allows the public to upload and download digital material to its data cluster, but the bulk of its data is collected automatically by its web crawlers, which work to preserve as much of the public web as possible. Its web archive, the Wayback Machine, contains over 150 billion web captures. The Archive also oversees one of the world’s largest book digitization projects. Continue reading Internet Archive, a nonprofit offering an overwhelming amount of free content (and triggering some copyright debates)

Bookzz, probably the world’s largest free ebook site with a minimally-invasive registration process



As NSR readers know, one of its overriding purposes is to be a passionate advocate for what could  be called ‘boundary-less reading’. By that I mean, e-reading liberated from the confines of space, time, and—increasingly—economic control by rapacious publishers and colluding library administrators whose model for reading demands that digitized books conform to the limitations of print in terms of availability and accessibility.

This radical departure in how to think about electronic reading  can free reading material from the requirements of location, platform, codes, passwords, and library cards and let people just read. There would no longer be a Library-Patron relationship, or a Vendor-Subscriber one. The high-tech simplicity of it all! This is possible when committed people join together.  Therefore, I dedicate this space (and a new column) to NSR‘s readership, who seek to read boundary-less.

Our tour last week began at the beginning, with Project Gutenberg. This week, I’ll describe what is probably the largest free ebook site: Bookzz ( and It looks to be a short description. The research I did for this post yielded very little. Searches on Google and ProQuest’s Library Science database revealed essentially nothing. Their website is extremely sparse on background information as well and gives no history. However, they do say that they have 2.8 million ebooks and 52.5 million science articles. The vast majority of files are in PDF format. Continue reading Bookzz, probably the world’s largest free ebook site with a minimally-invasive registration process

Project Gutenberg, public domain titles free to be read and re-distributed in the U.S. (but not necessarily throughout the world)

Project Gutenberg

Our tour of open reading sites begins at the beginning, with Project Gutenberg. The oldest (1971) of such collections, it currently has a collection of 53,000+ volumes. This number is expected to grow significantly in 2019, when changes in the copyright law allow more books to become available. Originally, founder Michael Hart’s intent was to focus of the collection was books in English in the public domain.  Recently, though, several European languages have been added. The history of the project is available at Wikipedia and on Project Gutenberg’s site.

Continue reading Project Gutenberg, public domain titles free to be read and re-distributed in the U.S. (but not necessarily throughout the world)

Croatia is the world’s first country to become a Free Reading Zone


No Shelf Required is thrilled and honored to announce:

Croatia is the world’s first country to become a Free Reading Zone

No Shelf Required and Total Boox join forces in turning the country of Croatia into an open virtual library accessible via a free application—to residents and tourists alike—without a library card or an access code. The growing collection boasts 100,000 titles by top publishers in several languages.

Zagreb, Croatia — Croatia has just made history by becoming the first country in the world turned into a Free Reading Zone (FREZ), i.e., an open virtual library accessible to all people free of charge regardless of their location. This includes not only Croatian citizens but millions of tourists from around the world who visit the country each year, who may download a free reading app, called Croatia Reads. The app is powered by Total Boox, an ebook service known to publishers and librarians for its revolutionary model which makes ebooks instantly available—with no restrictions—while paying publishers for reading and affording readers a seamless and uninterrupted reading experience.

“As a web site advocating free access to books and knowledge for all people, No Shelf Required is honored to be the first sponsor of this historic project,” said Mirela Roncevic, editor of No Shelf Required and manager of the project. “NSR’s mission is to make access to books a right of every citizen, not a privilege tied to institutions and corporate interests, so it is fitting that we stand behind it. It also holds a special meaning to me personally because this remarkable story of books escaping the confines of book stores and library walls is taking place in the country of my birth.”

Readers in Free Reading Zones may browse Total Boox’ collection of 100,000 titles, which includes books in all categories of fiction and nonfiction; from popular to academic, from professional to practical. Over 250 publishers are participating, including an array of world-class brands, among them, Lonely Planet, Workman, Sourcebooks, Berlitz, Oxford University Press, F&W Media, O’Reilly, Other Press, Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, New World Library, Marshall Cavendish, Berrett-Koehler, Lerner, and many others.

The goal of the FREZ initiative is to spread reading to public and private spaces and endow them with culture. The ‘zones’ may be sponsored by private and public institutions, corporations or government entities and can be as small as single-buildings (e.g., hospitals, cafes) or as big as entire cities and countries (as in the case of Croatia).  “With all due modesty, this is really a world’s first,” said Yoav Lorch, Founder and CEO of Total Boox. “It’s a general open invitation for all people to follow their interests and curiosities, wherever they are, at no cost and with no limitations. It’s not just about saving money. It’s about making culture and knowledge prevalent, about closing the digital divide, and about allowing the people to enjoy the fruits of the digital revolution.”

“With the launch of Croatia Reads, we have created a circle in which all segments of Croatia’s society benefit: culture, education, and tourism,” added Roncevic. “We have begun the next big revolution in the story of the book—the one where the potential of the digital medium is finally used to disperse knowledge to all who want it, when they want it, and how they want it. Croatia today stands as an example of what is possible with the book in the 21st century, and what is possible looks a lot like the democratization of the written word we’ve never seen before—the kind that will finally give books in digital format the chance to show their true potential.”

See also

Free mobile reading and writing platform for all to use? Yes, please. And thank you, Sweek.


Have you heard of the free mobile reading and writing platform Sweek? I didn’t know anything about it myself until I discovered it at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. As I learned from a recent press release, it is a global platform for free reading, writing and sharing stories already present in over 75 countries. It is available on all relevant platforms (including iOS and Android) and new stories from authors from around the world are uploaded daily. The idea is to give established and aspiring writers a creative outlet where they can share their stories for free, while also being able to promote their work. What a wonderful idea. Very aligned with No Shelf Required’s mission to support projects that unleash the written word for all to enjoy. The future of books and reading is ‘free’ in all shapes and sizes. Projects like this bring us closer to that future.–Ed.

Here’s more from the press release:

Frankfurt Book Fair

Sweek has been launched on all three platforms – iOS, Android and web – with full reading and writing functionality at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2016. During consumer days, hundreds of readers and writers downloaded the app and were introduced to the #sweekgalaxy competition for short stories. Until November 15th, writers can upload their short story of less than 2,000 words on Sweek using #sweekgalaxy to win a Samsung Galaxy S7. Veronika Kartovenko, cofounder and business development manager at Sweek: ‘Of course, we also talked with a lot of publishers during the book fair to discuss incorporating mobile publishing into their strategy. We definitely expect more top authors to join Sweek in the upcoming months.’

Reading and writing become social and mobile

Sweek serves a broad audience of readers and writers, but the ‘Smartphone generation’ is joining Sweek on a larger scale. ‘These people still read a lot, but in a different way, with the social component playing a crucial role in the reading experience, especially for the youngsters. Interestingly, even more ‘traditional’ readers start reading more on their smartphones, something which has been confirmed again and again by recent research,’ says Peter Paul van Bekkum, CEO of Mybestseller and Sweek. ‘Our most active markets, Turkey and Latin America, support this idea of changing reading behavior, as we see users being very smartphone focused, starting their own Facebook groups about Sweek, and caring a lot about the community and interaction.’ Readers can follow and like stories, and share them via different social media channels. Veronika Kartovenko: ‘Sweek creates a link between the author and the reader. Compared to the current situation, in which reading is a solitary activity and the author doesn’t know who his readers are, this changes the nature of reading and writing.

Reaching the Netflix generation

Authors are currently using Sweek to publish all types of content, in all genres and languages. ‘Sweek is there for – amongst others – short stories, blog posts, books and serialized writing,’ states Sabine van der Plas, co-founder and marketing manager at Sweek. ‘We currently see a lot of short stories on the platform, but also some traditional, chapter driven books, which users upload in one go. We’re curious to see how serialized and ‘never-ending stories’ will evolve. We believe that they can build up the interest of readers, who are by now used to shorter, cliffhanger based content, and have the potential to gain a massive amount of followers.’

Marketing tool for authors

The smartphone generation barely visits the bookstore anymore, while the publishing industry is still using mainly traditional marketing techniques to promote books. Recent changes in reading behavior ask for changes in publishers’ strategy, if they want to remain profitable. Currently, very few authors have a strong presence on social media, which we believe directly threatens their future sales. Sabine van der Plas: ‘Sweek is the ideal marketing tool for top authors and traditional publishers. By sharing exciting content – for free – on Sweek, authors reconnect with their readers, create a loyal fanbase, including digital natives, and reach a new audience. The author can immediately reach those followers when a new traditionally published books is released, thereby increasing book sales.’

About Sweek

Sweek is a mobile platform which allows anyone to read, write and share stories. All over the world. In an instant. For free. On Sweek you can find stories of both upcoming writers and established top authors, in all genres, to be read online and offline. Readers can follow, like and share stories, and readers and writers are directly connected. Sweek is free for all users, and is available in 12 languages for Android, iOS and web users.

About Mybestseller

Mybestseller gives any author the opportunity to easily publish their book (print and e-book) and sell it via all relevant sales channels, such as Amazon, but also directly via social media using BookLink. Next to operating its own brands as and, Mybestseller offers third parties a full service white label solution. This way, any publisher, bookseller or content party can immediately integrate self-publishing in their strategy, for instance and Mybestseller is active in the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Turkey.

Unlocking knowledge means empowering people, and MIT is setting a powerful example

MIT OPenCourseWare

No need for an elaborate introduction here about what exactly MIT is doing by opening up their digital content online. Best to start by simply quoting Dick K.P. Yue, Professor at MIT School of Enginnering: “The idea is simple: to publish all of our course materials online and make them widely available to everyone.”

If you haven’t heard about MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), here is the scoop. It’s intended not just to help educators at MIT improve curricula and make learning more effective for those enrolled at MIT, but to invite independent learners anywhere in the world to use the school’s course materials in their own educational pursuits and at their own pace. In other words, they are free to ‘take’ the course in the privacy of their own home by following full notes and having full access to materials every step of the way.

This is admirable. Truly admirable. And this is what the leaders among us who recognize the true value of digital content do: they open it up to the world. They eliminate all frictions and find ways to bypass man-made rules and institutions and simply make knowledge available to all. They have outgrown all unnecessary discussions of print and digital competing, and about complicated models that serve the select few, they recognize that unread/unused content has little to no value, and, most of all, they are pushing their own ‘institutional’ status quo by embracing the idea that learning never stops and that it is our collective responsibility to educate the world beyond the confines of university walls at a time when, despite all of the technological advances the world has seen, more than 90 percent of its population is not college-educated.

In a way, one can even argue that the same way the print book (the physical ‘paper’ object) is the container we buy, while consuming the content inside for free online (well, not really, but we hope to get there one day, don’t we?), the brick-and-mortar institution becomes the ‘experience’ we now buy (to directly engage with others, including professors and fellow students), while consuming the content (from course materials) online for free. So if we can’t afford to ‘be there’ in person, we can still afford to do it on our own terms.

Everything related to one’s ‘physical experience,’ then must come at a price, for obvious reasons: books must be printed (and before that, they must be written and produced); professors’ time must be paid, and the school’s expenses must be covered. In the same way, we are now able to listen to music for free online, while we must pay to attend a concert or by a CD or an LP (those of us who still collect them).

If we are able to recognize that digital content helps us open up knowledge to the world virtually while doing no harm to the ‘physical experience,’ we are able to create a circle in which everyone benefits. In fact, digital content and its widespread availability enhances the value of the ‘physical’ experience. All other creative mediums have caught on to this but books and textbooks. Initiatives like the one at MIT are a step in that direction.

Materials from 2340 courses are available, and the site is visited by millions. Each course includes lecture notes, slides, videos, instructor insights, Further Study listings, and much more. Here is a list of the most visited courses. MIT accepts donations to keep the operation running. For more info, go here.

Unlocking knowledge means empowering people not only beyond the university but beyond the borders of the United States of America. MIT is setting a powerful example.

Hundreds of ebooks from the MET, free for downloading


MetPublications (a portal to The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s comprehensive publishing program with over 1,500 titles) now offers 448 art books for free downloading (or free browsing online). This means that anyone, anywhere can access quality art books (in PDF) covering everything from the revered masters to books on modern design and art movements.

This is what spreading knowledge in digital format is about. This is what supporting digital literacy for all is about. Maybe not all there is to it, but efforts such as this keep us moving in the right direction. Browse the free ebooks here.