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For a Limited Time, Croatians Get Free Access to a Digital Library of 100,000 Books

A woman readin in the painting "A Moment's Distraction" by Croatian artist Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922). Public domain.

A woman reading in “A Moment's Distraction” by Croatian painter Vlaho Bukovac (1855-1922), PD.

In December, Croatia became a “Free Reading Zone” for all its residents willing to install a special mobile app that provides access to a rich e-book library.

Free Reading Zones are set up by a company called Total Boox, which offers access to its virtual library to various audiences through specialized apps. For patrons of its partners such as libraries and other institutions, access is free. For others, they have a model of “pay only for what you read: if you read 10% of the ebook, you will pay 10% of the price.”

In June 2016, Total Boox established a Free Reading Zone in the US state of Texas, in cooperation with the Brazoria County Library System.

Then in September, a cafe in Zagreb served as a pilot for a Free Reading Zone in Croatia. The zone was expanded to the whole country for the month of December with the publication of the mobile e-reader app Croatia Reads, available for Android and IOS.

The Croatia Reads app provides free access to 100,000 books, mostly in English, to its users based in Croatia. These include top titles by contemporary domestic and international authors. A special section of its library contains about 260 e-books from Croatia, in Croatian. In cooperation with local publishers, new titles are added every Friday.

In exchange, users do not pay money to use the app, but are required to relinquish access to their personal data. So far, it has between 10,000 and 50,000 thousand installs.

According to the leading Croatian ICT portal Netokracija, the Croatian Free Reading Zone for the current month is sponsored by the portal No Shelf Required. Continuation of free access depends on finding other sponsors.

Mirela Rončević speaking at 2013 E-Summit organized by New Jersey Public Library. CC BY-NC.

Mirela Rončević speaking at 2013 E-Summit organized by New Jersey Public Library. CC BY-NC.

The whole Free Reading Zone initiative has deeper Croatian roots. It's the brainchild of content specialist and free access advocate Mirela Rončević, a Croatian immigrant to the US. Coming from a small town in Dalmatia which does not have a bookshop, she combines her personal desire to enable access to knowledge as a basic human right with innovative approaches to business:

Još uvijek pristup knjizi ovisi o tome gdje se nalazite i kojoj instituciji pripadate. Ali kada se knjige svijeta otvore u digitalnom formatu, stvaraju se nove mogućnosti koje svako društvo treba maksimalno iskoristiti.

I still think that access to books depends on where you reside or which institution you belong to. But when all the books of the world become open in digital format, new opportunities arise which any society needs to utilize to the maximum.

The app offers value for smartphone users who are not based in Croatia, also. While many of the e-books are available through the pay-per-read model, the Croatian books are all free of charge.

Unrelated to this development, some of the international authors whose books are included in the Total Boox's collection had already made them available online for free via a Creative Commons license. One such example is the book “Overclocked” by Canadian sci-fi writer and privacy activist Cory Doctorow, which is available for download in multiple formats on his website.

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