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Unglue.it joins GITenberg

Unglue.it has been of two minds about public domain ebooks. On the one hand, we recognize that the public domain contains the greatest literary works ever produced, and ebooks of these works need to be on any serious reader’s ebook shelf. On the other hand, there are plenty of web sites already focused on the public domain- Project Gutenberg is the grandaddy of them all. Other websites- Manybooks.net and Feedbooks.com to call out the best – have done a pretty good job of taking public domain books and make them easy to find and download. Some sites are based in countries where books enter the public domain sooner than in the US. You can get books like “The Great Gatsby” on Feedbooks or ebooks@Adelaide, even while they’re under copyright here in the US.

To be frank, the websites focusing on public domain books haven’t met many of the needs of libraries. I can search for Huckleberry Finn on many library catalogs and be told that the only ebook held by the library is checked out. There’s a good reason for that. Many of the ebooks in Project Gutenberg aren’t formatted so well in for epub or mobi, despite the high quality of the plain text digitization. With 50,000 texts in Project Gutenberg, it’s hard to tell which ones are top quality and which ones would cause support problems for overworked librarians. We loaded a few hundred titles from Project Gutenberg into Unglue.it to see what happened.

As you might expect, these classics accumulated a lot of faves, and so we’d occasionally go and clean up some ebook files. Since we use Github to manage our website code, the natural thing to do was to put the cleaned-up ebook files in Github, in case someone else wanted to use them – there was no obvious way to get them into Project Gutenberg itself. I thought it would be cool if more of project Gutenberg was in Github.

Then I discovered GITenberg. Back in 2012, Seth Woodworth, an ebook technologist, wanted nicer ebook editions of classics from Project Gutenberg. And Github was the obvious platform collaboration. So he created a Github organization, named it “GITenberg”, and created thousands of Github repositories for Gutenberg texts. It was a no-brainer for Unglue.it to join the effort.


When I heard about the Knight News Challenge for Libraries, I suggested to Seth that GITenberg might have a chance. Working together, we wrote up a proposal, adding some library spin.

There were 676 entrants in the News Challenge, and believe it or not, GITenberg was one of 22 entries to receive funding. The team has been awarded a $35,000 “Prototype Grant”, which will allow us to spend some real development time to start turning the idea into something that really works. More to the point, we have a deadline (in late June!) for demonstrating the GITenberg concept.

But aside from 45,000+ repos on GitHub (a significant achievement by itself) GITenberg has so far been more concept than reality. If you try to adopt a repo and submit a pull request, you’ll become aware that the GITenberg of today is more of a sketch than a working system. To make it a working system, we’ll have to assemble a lot of cooperating components. Thankfully most of the components we need exist, and people are working on them. This became very clear at the Hack Day sponsored by New York Public Library in January.

So what does this all mean for Unglue.it?

The obvious benefit is that the quality of public domain ebooks in unglue.it will get a big boost if GITenberg succeeds – the work in GITenberg will be 100% free and open, and Unglue.it will be making sure that all that data flow really works. But in the bigger picture, the machinery that gets built for GITenberg will offer solutions for free ebooks in general. New ways to collaborate around free and open metadata is something that Unglue.it really needs if it is to become the comprehensive database for freely licensed ebooks that we’ve been striving towards.

New at Unglue.it: Buy as a Gift

Have you ever tried giving someone an ebook as a gift? DRM makes it difficult to give a Kindle ebook or an iBooks ebook as a gift. The recipient is locked into one vendor’s ecosystem, so unless you know the recipients reading platform, you might pick the wrong flavor of ebook. Printed books, by contrast, can make great gifts. When somebody gives you a book, the fact of the gift makes it even more valuable than a book you’ve bought yourself. How many books have you read and loved because someone gave it to you?

When we thought about implementing gifts on Unglue.it, we realized that “Buy-to-Unglue” ebooks could make great gifts.

  • They work on any reader
  • They don’t need expedited shipping, so if you’re a last-minute shopper…
  • We personalize each ebook, so we can put a gift message inside every ebook
  • Best of all, each purchase gets the ebook closer to being free for everybody!

There were a few wrinkles to work out; but there’s still time to use it for the holiday season. Here’s how it works:

  1. You need to be logged in as an unglue.it user.
  2. When you buy one of these ebooks as a gift, you enter the email address of the recipient, along with a gift message.
  3. The recipient is sent an email containing a redemption link. When they click on the link, they get access to the book’s download page. They can set a password if they want to collect the ebook later.
  4. When the recipient redeems the gift, the giver is sent a confirmation
  5. In case the email gets lost, the giver is also sent the redemption link.
  6. In case the recipient already has the ebook at unglue.it, they can re-gift it to some one else!

For now we’ve enabled “Buy as a Gift” for our five “Buy-to-Unglue” books, and we’ve started to think about how this could work for our “Thanks-for-Ungluing” books.

Happy holidays from the folks behind Unglue.it!

We’re making some lists,

and checking them twice.

You can give ebooks

at quite a nice price!


Embedding “Thanks for Ungluing” Links in E-Books

One of the difficulties we’ve noticed with “Thanks for Ungluing” is that the “Ask” comes at the wrong time. When you click the “Read It Now” button on the Unglue.it website, we let rights holders request your support for their work. You can go ahead and download the book anyway, but even if you don’t contribute, the hope has been that you’ll like the book and return later with to thank the creators.

The best time to ask you for support is probably after you’ve read and loved the book, and then you might have forgotten where it came from. Or maybe a friend sent you the book, or maybe you downloaded it from a library repository. In that case, a “thanks” link at the front or back of the book would be really handy!

What we’ve found, though, is that many authors and publishers find it difficult to provide such links. The big booksellers, like Apple and Amazon, don’t permit links like that in their bookstores, even when the book is free. Many of the pdf creation tools don’t export formatted hyperlinks. So we decided to help our rights holders do it, with software in the Unglue.it webserver. The author’s “ask” is in the front of the ebook.

So go ahead and download these books- you don’t have to worry about thanking the rights holders until the books have proven their worth, and you can make a contribution that’s commensurate with that value.

“Zero Sum Game” is an Exponential Transformation

Zero Sum Game

Zero Sum Game – SL Huang

“I’m just really good at math” is Cas Russell’s excuse for having superpowers. She’s the heroine of Zero Sum Game, SL Huang‘s debut novel. If you think about it, “being good at math” makes a lot more sense than Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider. Even if you slept through freshman biology, you probably picked up that radioactive spiders don’t give you super-powers. And how, exactly, did James Bond get his superpowers? (I’m referring of course to the Daniel Craig version of James Bond, the Bond who could calculate all the angles and fly through the air chasing after Mollaka in the opening sequence of Casino Royale. He was good at math, too!)

After the action sequences in Zero Sum Game,  James Bond seems rather lame in comparison. Don’t worry, there’s about s much math in Zero Sum Game as there are radiactive spiders in Spiderman. Huang has created a compelling superhero who is believably ordinary. Cas is a bit on the spectrum, but somehow seems like a real person even while racking up a body count that would put Bond to shame. Cas has a weakness for kids, a disdain for “cheap polymer piece-of-crap Glocks” and she doesn’t cope well with not having a case to work on.

By the end of Zero Sum Game we understand that there are several novels full of revelation ahead. It’s going to be so great.

I really enjoyed Zero Sum Game. It conveys the same paranoia about reality that we saw in Biodigital, but in a 2014 way. The writing is mature, brilliant and restrained in a way that’s very uncommon in self-published books. I would love to see it turn into a franchise. Movies, books, spin-offs, fan fiction. A giga-franchise would be even better.

Huang totally gets the possibilities of Creative Commons licensing.

I’ve licensed under Creative Commons because I don’t believe in maintaining the right to sue people who love my work enough to share it or make fan works of it. I still hope to make a living off my books . . . and I firmly believe I still can. That licensing this way will get me more readers, and that more readers will mean more revenue.
Prove me right by donating! Or, if you’re not sure you’ll like it, read it first—and if you feel you were entertained, come back and make a contribution of whatever you think the ride was worth.

I’m so thankful for the genius of the writers who are using CC licensing for their books.  What they’re doing is amazing, and we need to do our best to support them.