In a few short years, the amateur digital spewing phenomenon known as blogging has become an Internet fixture and has spawned a few explosive online successes (MySpace, YouTube) and more than a few bloggers whose opinions became valued professional resources (The Drudge Report, for political news and opinion). Like so many of the good things on the web, what began as projects of individual dedication became an important addition to our social and economic fabric.
Now, the rise of podcasts has led to what may become an addition to our cultural fabric. There are a host of sites that will allow you to download audio books for a fee, as an alternative to buying the cassette or CD. The costs of these downloads aren't any bargain compared to the audio or printed copy; you are simply spared the chore of seeking out the product in a brick-and- mortar store.
A more interesting phenomenon that has arisen in conjunction with podcast technology is the introduction of websites that provide free audio books. These books are, for the most part, classics that are in the public domain; no usage permission from author or publisher is required. Also of interest is the fact that many of these books are read by amateurs - that is to say, untrained actors or voices. There is no such thing as amateur status when it comes to consuming literature.
Some of these amateurs have become veterans in their own right. These people are volunteers solicited by the websites that provide these audio feeds and who have produced large amounts of work: one Southern California housewife has recorded more than one hundred chapters for the website Librivox. Some of the plays provided via free podcast are voiced by collections of actors - one per role.
While Librivox focuses on classics, Podiobooks.com provides serialized audio presentations of recent publications and books that have yet to be published. Their website allows you to "subscribe" to a book (for no fee) and receive a chapter a week via email. Even books that have been completed and are listed in the Podiobooks catalogue are delivered one chapter at a time. Because much of this writing is current, the site suggests that donations to authors are not out of line. Podiobooks is promoting the notion that cross-fertilization of books in both printed and spoken format will heighten interest in both.
Then there is the blog-oriented format of Dead White Males. This site is heavy on the literary reflections of its founder, provided in print. There are essays on elements of Shakespeare and other great authors, along with a blog site that allows for commentary on the essays. Incorporated into the site are a dozen podcasts ranging from modern poetry to Hardy's Return of the Native. This site is like attending a lit seminar with no chronological limitations.
Project Gutenberg is a website founded by Michael Hart, the gentleman who claims to have invented the ebook in 1971. Those must have taken days to download. In any case, the web site has a healthy category of ebooks in multiple languages available for download. Some have been created for this website and others provided by volunteers or other websites. Project Gutenberg is an archive that claims to be the largest resource for free audiobooks on the web.
This is a sampling of sites and each of them has its own approach to the same end: providing free literature online. A laudable goal, worthy of the early anarchy that characterized the birth of the Internet.