E-books Just Want To Be Free

July 23rd, 2010

I’ve known about the excellent Project Gutenberg for a long time now. It was founded in 1971 by Michael Hart and is the oldest digital library. I hadn’t been back to the site for several years because in my mind it was still the place where all you could download was ASCII text versions of books, which must be the worst possible way to read them. Sure, you could change the font to something easier on the eyes, but by definition and by design ASS-KEY lacks all formatting information — forget about line, paragraph or type styles, including bold and italic.

When I did stop by for a visit last month I was pleased to see that Project Gutenberg now offers “over 33,000 free e-books to read on your PC, iPad, Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone, Android or other portable device.” Yes, the days of ASCII are a footnote today. What a difference a little formatting can make. (Another footnote is “Our books are free in the United States because their copyright has expired. They may not be free of copyright in other countries.”)

Tonight I see that the 5th Annual  World eBook Fair is underway. From July 4th to August 4th you can select from 3,500,000+ free PDF -books. I just downloaded a very good scan of the 1866 edition of Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (with the marvellous illustrations from John Tenniel). I previously download an ePub versionfrom Project Gutenberg with the same illustrations. Very nice!


Meanwhile, the timely and trenchant blog TeleRead (“News & views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics”) brings word today that the Marc D’Hooghe has updated his Free Literature Site. I don’t know what it was like before, but it’s certainly a treasure now. Under “General” it offers over 400 sources of free digital books. There are 100+ sites for free poetry as well as sites for art books, music (books, scores and audio), and Classical Greek & Latin – Medieval.

Beyond that there is also a fine selection of links to:

  • Working on e-text: tools and information
  • Research, education and scientific publications
  • Books and literature in general

The site is frequently updated with new discoveries (RSS feed available). Some of the latest unique finds include Hinduism e-books as well as the Dutch version of Jules Verne’s De Kinderen van Kapitein Grant.

As Paul Biba notes on TeleRead, “I love browsing in a second-hand bookstore.”