Zagreb, Croatia — Croatia has just made history by becoming the first country in the world turned into a Free Reading Zone (FREZ), i.e., an open virtual library accessible to all people free of charge regardless of their location inside the country. This includes not only Croatian citizens but millions of tourists from around the world who visit the country each year. All people inside the country's borders may download a free reading app, called Croatia Reads, which recognizes their whereabouts via IP address. The app is powered by Total Boox, an ebook service known to publishers and librarians for its revolutionary model which makes ebooks instantly available—with no restrictions—while paying publishers for reading and affording readers a seamless and uninterrupted reading experience.
"As a web site advocating free access to books and knowledge for all people, No Shelf Required is honored to be the first sponsor of this historic project," said Mirela Roncevic, editor of No Shelf Required and manager of the project. "NSR's mission is to make access to books a right of every citizen, not a privilege tied to institutions and corporate interests, so it is fitting that we stand behind it. It also holds a special meaning to me personally because this remarkable story of books escaping the confines of book stores and library walls is taking place in the country of my birth."
Readers in Free Reading Zones may browse Total Boox' collection of 100,000 titles, which includes books in all categories of fiction and nonfiction; from popular to academic, from professional to practical. Over 250 publishers are participating, including an array of world-class brands, among them, Lonely Planet, Workman, Sourcebooks, Berlitz, Oxford University Press, F&W Media, O'Reilly, Other Press, Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, New World Library, Marshall Cavendish, Berrett-Koehler, Lerner, and many others.
The goal of the FREZ initiative is to spread reading to public and private spaces and endow them with culture. The ‘zones' may be sponsored by private and public institutions, corporations or government entities and can be as small as single-buildings (e.g., hospitals, cafes) or as big as entire cities and countries (as in the case of Croatia). "With all due modesty, this is really a world's first," said Yoav Lorch, Founder and CEO of Total Boox. "It's a general open invitation for all people to follow their interests and curiosities, wherever they are, at no cost and with no limitations. It's not just about saving money. It's about making culture and knowledge prevalent, about closing the digital divide, and about allowing the people to enjoy the fruits of the digital revolution."
"With the launch of Croatia Reads, we have created a circle in which all segments of Croatia's society benefit: culture, education, and tourism," added Roncevic. "We have begun the next big revolution in the story of the book—the one where the potential of the digital medium is finally used to disperse knowledge to all who want it, when they want it, and how they want it. Croatia today stands as an example of what is possible with the book in the 21st century, and what is possible looks a lot like the democratization of the written word we've never seen before—the kind that will finally give books in digital format the chance to show their true potential."