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If you e-give it, will they read?

Wired News, (October 20, 2000).

The University of Virginia Library's Electronic Text Center made 1,200 of its 55,000 online texts available on Aug. 6 as free e-books that can be downloaded and read using free Microsoft Reader software.

"We wanted to see what would happen if we put e-books up without any barriers," said David Seaman, the center's director.

In two months, 753,922 copies of those e-books have been downloaded.

"And none of our titles were bestsellers. In fact, many were texts published by the university," Seaman said.

Some of the most popular titles have been Aesop's Fables, War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, and Darwin's Origin of Species.

Alice in Wonderland has been downloaded over 4,000 times in September alone. Readers have come from more than 100 countries, with a significant numbers from Asia, Africa, and the Russian Federation. The audience has included the general reading public, high school and college students, teachers and parents.

"It was fairly easy for us to set up this experiment and get it going because we build our documents once in a standard format such as XML and then let the market dictate which way to express it," Seaman said. "This runs counter to what the publishing industry is doing by creating content in a priority format all and winding up with just that one document."

Everyone knows what happens when you sell a paper book for $25 and what happens when you give away e-books, but what is not yet known, said Seaman, is what options will work in between those two points. "This is not business as usual anymore. You have to be open to letting the markets teach you. We're curious about subscription services, lending fees, and prices of, say, a penny, or a dime, or even a dollar," he said.

Seaman does not think that the current reading devices and software solutions on the market will work in the long run.

"It is like saying to a customer that if you don't buy the publisher's special decoding eye glasses you can't read the book. Imagine a bookstore doing that," Seaman said.

Wired News.