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Return of the eBook?

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Anyone that’s knows me, knows I love to read. I never travel anywhere without some reading matter. In fact, I can’t remember a time in my life when there hasn’t been a book of some kind on the go.

The problem is that I also like to travel light. I hate carrying any kind of bag if I can get away without it. On a three week trip to Australia a couple of years ago I almost got away with hand luggage. Books rather than clothes were a reason my rucksack had to be checked in.

OK, so, you get the picture. So by that rational you might infer that I’m a great fan of eBooks. Well, yes, I am a fan, but I have some rules.

I am definitely not a fan of DRM. I don’t want to buy a copy of a book that is tied to a device. I don’t want to have to buy a separate electronic copy of a paper book I am reading. Because of that my eBooks tend to be of the out of print variety, and I almost always get them from Project Gutenberg.

I’ve been interested in Project Gutenberg for a very long time and admire its simplicity as well as breadth – with 17,000 titles. It’s clear that lots of other people also think highly of Project Gutenberg – every month two million eBooks are downloaded from it. The day before I wrote this editorial the top ten downloads included Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, H G Wells’ The Time Machine, and the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

These are not exactly the very latest titles, and that’s because Project Gutenberg is all about out of copyright works. This means they can be distributed freely, and there’s no DRM to worry about. Moreover, downloads are available in a range of widely used formats including plain text, PDFs and, increasingly MP3s. If you fancy the MP3 format – and I highly recommend it – give the computer generated voices a wide berth as they can grate a bit, but explore the books read by people, some of which are simply superb. There is even a small but growing selection of sheet music.

The use of widely accessible data formats means Project Gutenberg eBooks are readable across a huge range of mobile devices as well as desktop computers. And the absence of DRM means you can install them on as many devices as you like. So I tend to download a book and put it on my laptop and whatever handhelds and smartphones I am currently using. Whenever I go anywhere, the eBook I am reading is with me.

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