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Dear Jane:  Are we really getting $100 worth of free books with an eReader?

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.

Dear Author

Midday Links: More Amazon Review Drama, Scholarly Edition

DA Industry NewsThis New Yorker article is one of the best articles I’ve read about the Apple pricing model, Apple, Amazon, and publishers. Pieces of interest include that Apple has agreed to this type of pricing model for only one year and only publishers believe that higher digital prices can be sustained.

No matter where consumers buy books, their belief that electronic media should cost less-’that something you can't hold simply isn't worth as much money-’will exert a powerful force. Asked about publishers' efforts to raise prices, a skeptical literary agent said, "You can try to put on wings and defy gravity, but eventually you will be pulled down."

Publishers Marketplace took exception (paid link) to the gossipy tone of the article and the suspect math (only a $1 left over for profit?) but the New Yorker article is great for the overview because it gives insight on the publisher mindset and how the retail rivals are shaping up. Obviously, Steve Jobs is in the I win/you lose school too. Witness the drama between Apple and Adobe or Apple and HTC or Apple and Google or Apple v. anyone who submits an iPhone App.


To borrow a word from the Auletta article, academics in Britain were incandescent over reviews left by Dr. Stephanie Palmer, a senior law lecturer at Cambridge University and wife to Dr. Orlando Figes, a history professor. Dr. Palmer, under the name “Historian” left scathing reviews of other historians’ works.

For some reason this led to one angry author to email 30 some other targeted authors and resulted in legal threats and ultimately Amazon’s removal of the reviews. I know that the UK has much stricter libel laws, but the reviews had to be removed? And were the subject of legal threats?

One author, the subject of a negative review by Dr. Palmer, said that the online reviews were “unpleasant personal attacks in the old Soviet fashion.”

So thus, the lesson is if you leave a negative review calling a book “dull” and “awful”, you are a communist. And, you will always be found out if you are anonymous.


One thing that our librarian did NOT do in “What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss” is have sex in the stacks but according to one library survey at least 20% of librarians find the stacks a perfect trysting place. I worked in my college library and the stacks were a musty, dusty place with a lot of dark corners. Plus, it totally enclosed in the middle of the library.


Amazon has sued for declaratory judgment in Seattle asking the court to clarify whether Amazon must turn over customer information requested by North Carolina. The State of North Carolina says that it must have this information to collect sales tax. Amazon has provided some information but has balked at providing the names and addresses of all residents who has bought anything from Amazon since 2003 arguing that it is an invasion of privacy. I have to agree with Amazon here. As long as they are providing sales data without identifying information, I don’t believe North Carolina is entitled to know what books each and every resident purchased.


The Impact of Free eBooks dissertation has been published and (PDF LINK) made available for free.

Conclusion: free ebooks appear to help print sales but there are a lot of variables and this may change as ebooks become a larger part of the market.


Mike Shatzkin blogs again about the danger of an internet purchasing world. The danger to print publishing is not just in digital books, but in online sales and the loss of brick and mortar retail power. Shatzkin argues that as many as half the book purchases could be online by the end of 2012 and the danger is that “inventory creates sales that wouldn’totherwise occur.”

how books are displayed and what clerks say (which is also affected by how books are displayed) -’ influences a lot of purchases. If we don't have retail locations with books merchandised to entice people to buy, I believe overall book sales will go down.


In another blow to independent booksellers, New York School system has decided to purchase its trade books directly from wholesale discounters instead of more than 100 small vendors selling fiction, non fiction, and supplemental textbooks.

The library services division of Ingram, the country's largest trade-book wholesaler, and The Booksource, one of its main competitors, outbid their rivals with guaranteed discounts of as much as 38 percent on single titles.


Someone at MobileRead noticed that Barnes and Noble is advertising the nook at a book file sharing site. I think its probably smart of BN but is it ethically wrong?


I bet Bob Sessions of Penguin Australia wishes he could have do over. Penguin Australia released “Pasta Bible” which had the phrase “freshly ground black people” instead of “black pepper.” The publisher pulped and reprinted 7000 copies but could not recall all the books on the shelves. Sessions then said that anyone who complained about the “silly mistake” would be given a new version. Sessions just didn’t understand why anyone would be offended.

I know race relations are very different in other parts of the world but still.