From No Shelf Required:
For the past many months, I’ve had the privilege of stepping outside the confines of the publishing and library industries (as well as the borders of the United States) to engage in non-profit projects and initiatives that bring books and knowledge to people. There comes a point in every person’s career when we crave to turn our professional jobs into missions, and it simply isn’t enough to earn a paycheck, even amidst the most challenging circumstances. We take a leap of faith and jump.
And jump I did, from New York all the way to Croatia, where I would (not immediately upon arrival but soon thereafter) embark on the project of my life and turn an entire country into an open virtual library (available to all its people without a card and access code and regardless of status, geography, background, citizenship, etc). In early December 2016, Croatia (the country of my birth) became the world’s first Free Reading Zone for one entire month.
During that time, anyone in Croatia, including residents and tourists, could read (online and offline) freely over 100,000 books from well-known publishers (some old, most brand new releases), in several languages, via a free reading app, called Croatia Reads. While I plan to share the full story of how we pulled it off (I managed the project in cooperation with Total Boox and a few local enthusiasts), and what we hope to accomplish next in another article on NSR, here, however, I want to briefly shed light on the most prominent lessons learned from this transforming experience (there have been many). And it has to do with understanding what readers really want from ebooks and digital content.
The pilot wasn’t just a passionate attempt to ‘free’ books from the confines of library walls and expensive ebook platforms and bring them to people in rural areas and places with no bookstores or libraries. It was an attempt to prove to the book and library industry on both sides of the Atlantic that there is genuine interest among consumers to read ebooks when the right conditions are created for them, just as there is genuine interest in engaging with all sorts of information in digital format. With all due respect for all our arguments about the emotional attachment to paper, ebooks hold the promise of a future in which paper books do not perish but knowledge flows freely to all who want it, while publishers and content creators get their fair share.
Long story short: readers will read books in digital format enthusiastically when they are offered to them for free. Does this mean that publishers will not get paid? Of course not. The whole concept of the Croatia Reads project was designed around the idea that publishers always get paid for everything read (that’s why we opted for the Total Boox model, which pays publishers only for the content read). But more importantly, the reading is always sponsored by a third-party, in this case it was No Shelf Required. In other words, the burden of paying for the reading is transferred from the reader onto the sponsor.
Link to the rest at No Shelf Required and thanks to SFR for the tip.