by Eric Hellman

Eric spoke on Thursday 17th November at 3pm GMT about his work with Project Gutenberg and Distributed Proofreaders, and how these experiences have informed his perspectives on the early days of open access and more recent developments in OA books. View the event recording.

You’ve probably heard of “Green” OA (Open Access), “Gold” OA, maybe something new-fangled like “Diamond” or “Quartz” OA. But you probably haven’t heard of “OG OA, and I’m hear to tell you about it. New-fangled it’s definitely not! OG is short for “Original Gangster”, not “Old Guy”, athough… 

“Original Gangster” in modern slang refers to someone who is “Old School”. An OG was cool before cool even existed, and has overcome hurdles the young kids wouldn’t ever understand. The OG has such original style that who even cares about fashion or trends?

The OG of Open Access is Project Gutenberg. Before the Kindle, before the web, before the PC, Michael Hart started typing in “texts” and making them available online. For free, though you had to pay for the phone time. The original ebook was never meant to be the clunky reader gadgets that corporations were trying to sell, it was bits you could get online. Project Gutenberg invented the ebook as we know it.

Fifty one years later, Project Gutenberg is going stronger than ever. This month, it will post its 70,000th publication, most of them public domain, and all of them free. Every year, readers download 50 million ebooks from Project Gutenberg, making it second only to Amazon in terms of ebooks delivered. More than one billion-dollar company has gotten its start by doing interesting things with text from Project Gutenberg.

You might wonder how Project Gutenberg has managed to maintain itself for that long. Mostly, it’s by relying on a community of volunteers who contribute time, effort, and expertise through a web of cooperating organizations dedicated to making the books that belong to all of us available to all of us.

Through my organization, the Free Ebook Foundation, I’ve been helping Project Gutenberg maintain and develop the technology that produces and serves the ebook files that are enjoyed by so many. I look forward to giving you a view inside Project Gutenberg, the challenges it faces and some of the hidden strengths that sustain it. I also hope you can learn some ‘old school’ to make new-kidz OA more resilient and well… cool.

CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.