Free (Legal) Books on the Internet

Welcome to Free Books on the Internet week! There are, pulmonologist surprisingly, price many places to find free books on the internet. I’ll go through a few of them — even a few more interesting ones — in this entry. Don’t worry; I’ve merely delayed the posting of the book review by one hour. You’ll still have it by breakfast time.

I would guess at least a few of you have heard of Project Gutenberg. They’re a not-for-profit organization that is putting e-forms of as many public domain books as they can get on the internet. These aren’t all old books, adiposity either — I got Cory Doctorow’s novel Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town there, and he’s not the only one. Browse for yourself. They come available in many formats — .txt files, .pdf files, on the web itself, and usually in .html format as well. I generally prefer books in .html format; they’re more adaptable, smaller than .pdf files, and don’t require conversion before you read them.

A corollary to Project Gutenberg is DailyLit. They will send about two pages of a novel to you every day by email. A good deal of what they have is free, although there are also books you can pay for on the website as well. also has free e-books, pre-formatted in .pdf form or many other forms that are good for ebook readers (the Sony E-Reader, Mobipocket readers, Palm Pilots, etc.). I think they get most of their books from Project Gutenberg, but I found a few later works there, as well.

Another good place to get free books on the internet is your local public library. I know that two out of the three libraries I have ever had lending privileges at both have ebook collections. They’re not extensive, but they exist, and I would suspect that the more patrons that use them, the more they will expand them. These books you can’t keep, though — you download the book and can read it for three or four weeks (whatever your library’s typical lending period is). At the end of that period, the book will be locked up, and you might as well delete it. Larger library systems are more likely to have these books, and because they are DRM-protected, I think you have to have a certain program (Adobe, Mobipocket) to read the books. Still, for best-sellers, this can be a good way to read them.

Some publishers have started offering free books on their websites. Harper Collins does occasionally, but more importantly, there’s the Baen Free Library. After a book has been out for a few years, and it stops producing significant royalties, a Baen author has an option of putting his or her book on the website. Many authors have chosen to do so. Tor appears to be doing something similar; at the moment they’re giving away free books by email, while they redesign their website. I’d be interested to see what the end result is.

A more time-intensive way to find free books on the internet is to find single titles given away by authors. These vary in quality; some people aren’t published for a reason, obviously. Many are very good, though; one of the books I’ll be reviewing later this week is an unpublished novel by Diane Duane, of So You Want to be a Wizard fame.

Why do authors do this? Well, many of them are dead, so they have no choice. More relevantly, Cory Doctorow gives his books away for free on the internet for moral reasons, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt his print sales or his personal wealth. Recently, John Scalzi had a book of his (Old Man’s War) given away by (I’m sure he agreed to it), and he saw a significant uptick in print sales — we’re talking 30-odd percent, and in the hundreds of books per week range. Moral reasons, financial reasons, public domain reasons — I have to admit, I love free books in any way, shape, or form. So this week, I’m reviewing five of them. Enjoy!

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