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5 Pros and Cons of Publishing Public Domain Content

Updated on September 24, 2014

Before I go into why the Public Domain is a source of passive income, I'm going to explain what the Public Domain is. This is a place online where all works posted are supposed to be out of copyright. This includes older works created by an author who has been dead at least 70 years, as well as content donated by other people. The intent is that this material is free for distribution and there is no copyright to restrict that distribution.

It seems like a gold mine for the taking. There are thousands upon thousands of texts, videos, and audio files that could potentially make money. However, like most things, it really isn't that simple. I'm going to give you two pros and three cons of publishing Public Domain works as eBooks, iTunes podcasts, etc. It's not cut and dry so please read the following for an introductory look at where you can go right and where you can go wrong.


1. You have a seemingly endless amount of content you can profit from. It is there and the likelihood someone has already exploited all of it is ridiculously remote and not even a rational thought at this point. Well-read people can take advantage of classical works and authors most people would not even know about. People looking to publish within a niche will likely find a huge supply of content to profit from. There is so much and most of it has yet to be placed in the view of the public. Most people do not even know the Public Domain exists or that there are so many works within it.

2. Most of the content is completely worry free. If someone has been dead for a decade, they can't claim ownership of the content. A great example of exploiting content like this is Disney. Disney made an empire off of Public Domain content. You can breathe easy publishing these works. Some people have tried to copyright these works butt US copyright law does not support "starting the clock anew." If this were the case, the Public Domain would have already been stripped bare.


1. If you're looking to publish on Kindle, repeat publishing is not allowed. You cannot publish a work that is already published to Kindle unless it is translated, illustrated, or in some way different than the original work. I recommend searching the title on the Kindle store prior to publishing. It will save you a lot of work. If you can't publish to Kindle, Google Play, Nook, Kobu and other platforms allow the publishing of Public Domain content without these restrictions....yet.

2. Sometimes people who put their works in the Public Domain cry foul and say their works are not in the Public Domain. You typically make peanuts off of these works and Kindle will sometimes block your account without hearing your side. I almost lost my account, complete with my own works, because someone claimed they never put their work on the Public Domain. I immediately submitted the link to Kindle and offered to reimburse the author the $3.20 I made from his book. My account was reinstated and I never heard back from the author. Be prepared to deal with that if the author still has a pulse.

3. Don't expect to get rich off of one or two works. Regardless of where you publish these works, one or two titles don't hack it. You need to spend a lot of time researching good titles and publishing. Find translations of these works already on the Public Domain. Keep at it and soon you will be making regular sales from the variety of content.


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