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Dear Jane: Are we really getting $100 worth of free...

I received an email from reader Lynn about MyPadMedia selling access to free books. MyPadMedia was using Feedbooks feed improperly but the email prompted an issue I have wanted to talk about for a bit but never gotten around to it and that is the sale of public domain books through every internet retailer out there.


Dear Jane:

I see promotions for ebook readers saying that the ebook readers come with $100 of free books but is this really a great deal?

~ Curious


Dear Curious:

Short Answer: It really is no deal at all.   What the ebook device sellers are doing is collecting a number of popular books in the public domain and preloading them onto your reader.   This can actually be a hassle when you go to power up your ebook device and have 100 unwanted books you’ll need to delete.   But the great thing is that there are organizations that are creating digital books that are freely accessible to you without buying a digital reader at all.   I highly recommend checking out Project Gutenberg, MobileRead, and Feedbooks.   Feedbooks provides access to both public domain and original works.   All free and perfectly formatted for your reading devices.

One book you might want to check out (among the favorites from Austen and Bronte) is E. M. Hull’s The Sheik which is one of the first captivity narrative romances and possibly the mother of modern romances.   (note: this is a forced seduction story).

Long Answer: Public domain books are books whose copyright has expired and thus no one owns the rights to the books.   Copyright is a legal term that describes the ownership a creator has over a work produced.   An author has the copyright over the book she has written.   She then sells access to her copyright to publishers in exchange for money such as an advance (up front lump sum) and   royalties (when the up front lump sum is exceeded by a percentage of the revenue earned by sales of the book).

The author is entitled to a copyright for a certain period of time.   When the statute creating copyrights was first enacted in the US, the length of a copyright was 28 years renewable for another 28 years.   Since 1909, the copyright law has been amended several times and now the length of copyright is the life of the creator plus seventy years.   Each country has its own term of copyright.   This wikipedia chart provides an exhaustive summary of the different copyright lengths.

It is the different copyright lengths that led to the Amazon George Orwell debacle.   The Orwell books became part of the public domain in many countries like Australia, Canada, and Russia but they are still in copyright in the U.S. and the European Union.   A company had been digitizing public domain books and included Orwell books in the Kindle release.   The Orwell Estate sent a notice asking the books to be removed and Amazon complied by deleting the books off people’s Kindle devices and sending a refund.   (Amazon has since promised that they will never reach into people’s Kindle accounts again and remove content without a court order).   (Source: Boing Boing, Times, and Make)

Once a book has fallen into the public domain, we members of the public can do with the work what we want.   We can take a Jane Austen book and create new works from it like the famous Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.   Or we can take a Jane Austen book, create a digital copy, and sell it ourselves.   Penguin is famous for its Penguin Classics which essentially takes works in the public domain and repackages them for sale.

The great thing about digital books is that there are organizations that are creating digital copies out of all the books that have fallen out of copyright.   Digitization of public domain books is one thing that Google is doing and why it is claiming that it will have over more books available than anyone else.

  • Project Gutenberg is a non profit organization that is dedicated to the digitization of public domain works as well.   Project Gutenberg has over 30000 of the most popular classics digitized and available in different formats.   You can use my handy chart to help you decide which format to download.
  • The readers at MobileRead have also been digitizing public domain works and these are also available for free.
  • Another great source of both public domain works and other free fiction is Feedbooks.

The point is that those $100 worth of free books can be had for free by anyone. You just need to know where to look. Happy downloading.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Tweets that mention Dear Jane: Are we really getting $100 worth of free books with an eReader? | Dear Author --
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 04:11:42

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  2. Laura Vivanco
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 05:35:58

    “(note: this is a forced seduction story).”

    I don’t think there’s any seduction in it at all: there is, however, plenty of force and rape. The hero’s treatment of the heroine is explicitly compared to the way he very brutally tames his horses.

  3. Kay Sisk
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 07:00:23

    Whatever else it was, The Sheik was popular. I bought a copy at a college library used book sale (many) years ago. Copyright 1921, with the 1st to 41st printings being Feb to Nov of that year. My copy is a 62nd printing in Jan 1922.

  4. Maili
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 09:00:03

    I highly recommend Many Books. It’s clean and well organised as it offer categories of genres, eras, titles, authors, magazines, specific collections, and languages. It provides books in every format available. Some authors donated their books to this site, too.
    Here’s one of my favourite fun categories, eBooks That Became Movies, to start off with.

  5. DS
    Jun 06, 2010 @ 09:14:31

    @Laura Vivanco: Not explicit, but it is pretty clear he rapes her repeatedly. ETA Oops, meant to say I agree with your statement.

    I read The Sheik in Jr. High– we had a bunch of sets of formerly best selling authors in the school library– and I remember being pretty put off by this one.

    I did develop a strong affection for the works of Rafael Sabatini– Scaramouche and Captain Bloodin particular. A number of his books are also in the public domain and available on Gutenburg.

  6. Estara
    Jun 07, 2010 @ 13:31:54

    I’d like to add as another contender for public domain books and some free books (Martha Wells had her Element of Fire free on there first). It offers a whole lot of formats (all drm free of course). It’s run and developed by Matthew Clintock. If you like his work you can donate to him. You also can review the book after you’ve read it.

    However if you’re not registered, you can only make one download (a day I would guess) now. I very much love the fact that tends to have small excerpts of any pd domain book it offers – some of other sites don’t offer this helpful tool for choice. Also he offers non-English pd books as well.

    There have been 11 million downloads so far

    Popular Formats
    PDF 2,230,555
    ePub 1,577,696
    eReader 1,431,537
    FictionBook 1,195,681
    Plucker 998,702
    Palm Doc 946,326
    iSilo 588,332
    Kindle 540,261
    Large Print PDF 345,826
    Sony (Librie, Reader) 314,904
    Plain text 287,295
    RTF 281,149
    Mobipocket-mobi 221,762
    Mobipocket 191,887
    Cellphone (.jar) 172,883
    Microsoft LIT 118,562
    Custom HTML 91,337
    iPod 42,548
    Rocketbook 7,232
    zTXT 5,830
    iPhone 5,015
    TCR 1,154
    Newton 1,044
    Total: 11,597,518 downloads since June 1, 2009, or thereabouts.

  7. Estara
    Jun 07, 2010 @ 13:35:21

    @Maili: Dang, I really ought to read ALL the comments before I post ^^

  8. HeatherK
    Jun 08, 2010 @ 10:43:20

    You can also access free classics though the Sony Library software (partnered with Google for it). On the home page, scroll down a bit, and there’s a box on the right hand side. Just click on it and it’ll take you to the rather large listing (it says there are thousands), divided up by genre. Epub format, however, when you click to download, there’s no confirmation. Check your “library” for the book to be sure it downloaded.

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    Jan 09, 2011 @ 04:02:33

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