Braille Monitor                                                 November 2012

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A Library for the Price of a Book

From the Editor: Richard Seltzer’s little publishing company has been providing classic books in plain text format for the blind for nineteen years. Now they have opened a new download ebook store, Quench Editions, <http://www.samizdat.com/quencheditions/>, so you can get organized book collections directly online. Here is his description:

We have been selling books in plain text format since I met Diane Croft, then an editor at the National Braille Press, and she explained to me how important plain text books are to the blind. Rather than go through the time-consuming and constraining process of trying to set up a nonprofit company and seek grants, I simply did what I thought should be done, the way I thought it should be done, setting up a self-sustaining business that provided classic books for pennies a piece. That became part of the small publishing business that I already ran with my wife Barbara--B&R Samizdat Express. (B stands for Barbara, R for Richard [me], and Samizdat is Russian for "self-published.")

First we provided individual books on diskette; later we migrated to large, organized collections of books on CD and DVD. Now, while continuing to sell the CDs and DVDs through our Yahoo Store <http://samizdat.stores.yahoo.net/>, we offer similar collections by download. That means that the blind no longer have to deal with storing, finding, and using physical objects. With the high speed of today's personal computers and the Internet and with the huge storage space available on hard drives and other memory devices, CDs and DVDs are becoming obsolete. Downloads are now quick and easy. Many sighted people now use eReaders (Nook, Kobo, Sony, Kindle, etc.), and we wanted to serve them. But we also wanted to continue to serve the blind. And, when we asked our blind customers, they told us overwhelmingly that, despite advances in technology, plain text books are still important to them. So, in addition to selling single books and small groups of books in e-reader formats (ePub, PDF, and PRC), we converted many of our plain-text book-collection CDs to downloadable files. Over 20,000 books are available in these collections, and, if you like, you can buy all of them in a single transaction.

The customer gets a zipped file, with books organized in folders and subfolders by author or category. The file names are the book titles, not codes or abbreviations, and there's an index document, listing all the hundreds or thousands of books in that collection, with active links to every book. These books are all available free over the Internet, from sites such as the Gutenberg Project. Our value-added is in selection and organization and in editing and formatting that eliminate unnecessary characters (like underscores) and irrelevant text (like ads for other books and lists of illustrations in books that have no illustrations). All of this makes the books easier to read. The books are not encrypted. You can use them with devices that convert text to speech or to Braille. If you open them in a word processor, you can copy and paste excerpts; you can highlight and annotate them and save what you have added (for instance, a marker where you last stopped reading).

For PCs and Macs, when you unzip or extract the download, all the subfolders and files are located in the same folder, and you can use the index document to click and open the individual books, or you can browse through the folders and open the books directly using any word processor or web browser. Each book is a separate file that you can edit, print, or highlight or from which you can copy and paste excerpts; and each sub-folder has the works of a particular author or books on a common topic. In other words, you can creatively control these files. None of the major ebook retailers has offerings of this kind.

Our store uses a no-frills web design with minimal graphics (just the company logo). Payment is by PayPal®. We are not set up like the monster online stores that have millions of titles and are automated, depending on search engines and data bases. These books are hand-selected and hand organized. (My hands.)

If you would like free samples, send me an email at <mseltzer@samizdat.com>, and ask to be added to the distribution list for "Free Ebook of the Week" and/or "Free Kid's Book of the Week." We've been sending out selected classic books as email attachments for eight years. This is a labor of love. I'm an obsessive and omnivorous reader. I've read many of the books that I publish. Since I was twelve years old (back in 1958), I have kept a list of every book I have read. The complete, frequently updated list, is on the web at <http://www.samizdat.com/readall.html>. For what I've read so far this year, check <http://www.samizdat.com/read2012.html>. For a list of the downloadable book collections, with links to the complete tables of contents of each, please go to <http://www.samizdat.com/quencheditions/plaintext.html>.

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