Free books and expired copyrights
Why aren't books free?
It's interesting to note the economics of book publishing. Writing a book takes the time of an author or multiple authors. In the case of academic pubilcations which are not generally profitable, there is a secondary step of peer-reviewing to ensure that all the information is accurate and the theories are sound.
It's funny that the author, who is the person we most commonly associate with the book, does not count for the majority of your book's cost. The author gets paid for time and ingenuity, but the majority of the book's cost goes to publishing and distribution. Then another portion goes to retail.
Did you know that stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble throw away perfectly good books? In order to get bookstores to stock shelves with millions of copies of Hilary Clinton's autobiography or the latest Tom Clancy novel, the publisher makes an agreement with the bookstore that any unsold books will be refunded on the condition that they are destroyed!
The bookstore will tear the covers off of perfectly good books and send those to the publishers as proof. The rest of the book goes in the dumpster outside the store coverless. That's why there is a warning on many books that tell you "If this book has no cover, it is stolen".
It is more profitable for big companies to sell millions of copies of a single book than it is to sell a few hundred copies of many books. So they invest a great deal of money in books they know will get thrown out just because they need to keep shelves stocked so you think those books are worth putting on your own shelf.
Also, big companies are the best at handling the marginal cost of increasing a book's distribution. A small printer and publisher can make a few thousand copies of a book with ease at a certain cost, but they don't have the overhead to make tons of books and ship them everywhere. When I say marginal in the beginning of this paragraph, I mean it in the economic sense. The marginal cost of adding a single additional reader is something business people look at very seriously. It gets more and more expensive to add one more reader/buyer after a certain point. At least it used to be more expensive because of the cost of printing and distributing the book.
How can books be free?
The Internet makes it so most of the marginal cost of adding a reader vanish. If I have a website it costs me a certain amount of money to run that site. If 100 people download the book, it costs me the price of running the site. If 101 download it, I pay the same thing. If 10,001 people download it, I pay virtually the same thing.
As a result, the costs are no longer prohibitive to cheap book distribution. That means the only factor keeping books from being free is that original work on the part of the author (THE WAY IT SHOULD BE). The author still deserves to make some money even if we cut out the expensive middlemen who notoriously rip covers off of good books and throw them in the dumpster.
But eventually, authors make their money and then some. After a certain amount of time, authors die and their children pass on and eventually their books become public property. They got some good mileage out of those books, so it's reasonable that they're free now.
If you want some of the classics, the chances are you don't have to pay $8 for a Penguin classic print of the book. You can just download it for free. Almost none of that $8 goes to the author or even the original publisher. Most of the $8 is wasted on moving around books that are gonna get thrown out frequently and it's aggravating.
- Gutenberg Project
This is a project to host all literature that is legal to host and it's absolutely free. It's amazing. You can find some classics. You can find some books and old treatise you've never heard of. It's really fun to browse.
- Cafe Madras
Welcome to our books section, find E-Book and Desktop versions of your favorite authors and books by clicking the links above. The main purpose of this site is to distribute books free to everyone. You can read Dickens, Shakespeare, Hugo, etc.
- Madras on your Mobile
You can even read it on your PDA or mobile Be careful, some of the things at this site do have a cost. The things that are free are clearly marked though.
Free Audio Books
- Internet Archive
The Internet Archive is an exceptional place on the Internet. It is one of my favorite sites, offering absolutely free audio obtained legally. There are some audio books so I want to mention it here.