In the rush to own or give the latest gadget (to wit: the Kindle ebook reader), how many people will stop to ask about its compatibility with titles that already exist in digital format, especially those offered for free on the Web? Many won’t inquire, because advertising is frighteningly influential and $9.99 for an Amazon ebook download is bargain enough.
Caveat emptor. Remember that devices not designed exclusively for ebook reading, including the iPhone and notebook computers, can serve the purpose at least for now.
WHERE are the free ebooks?
Across the Web, overlooked nooks and crannies conceal astonishingly good reading material. Free ebooks of interest will be easier to extract—that is, to locate quickly—when Web search algorithms become more refined and content is systematically tagged with keywords. In the meantime, human intervention is required. Within six months, someone will begin more aggressively aggregating links to the best ebooks published on the Web.
[Updated on January 20, 2009] Gizmo’s, a freeware advice site, listed “50 Places for Free Books Online” a few months ago.
[Updated on March 28, 2009] TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home now offers a free ebooks guide.
Meanwhile, here are just a few of the many troves of freebies:
WOWIO is a Houston, Texas, startup “where readers can legally download high-quality copyrighted ebooks from leading publishers for free.” [On August 3, 2008, David Rothman blogged about the sale of Wowio to Platinum Studios, which changed Wowio's advertising model.]
Live Search Books lets readers download PDF versions of thousands of titles. Look for the “100% viewable” notation in the list of results, which indicates the full text is available online. [On May 23, 2008, Microsoft announced its decision to shut down Live Search Books.]
[New Writing International, formerly] the Leicester Review of Books, is attempting to compile the definitive list of blog novels. The definitive list keeps moving, so if the link here is broken, try searching
the Leicester Review of Books New Writing International for “blog novel.”
There are many other free ebook sources. Feel free to add the links to your favorites by posting a comment here. And take note of the best free ebooks’ digital formats before purchasing a device that might be incompatible with some of them.
WHY do authors or publishers give away ebooks?
Only the person or company that possesses the digital copyright can authorize the publication of a book on the Web. In many cases, the copyright has been
sold licensed to the publisher.
Leo Babauta points out that ebook devices could reduce the need for agents, publishers, distributors, and sellers that currently convey traditionally published books from author to reader. He’s not the only one who recognizes digital formats’ potential to deliver content to readers rapidly and efficiently. HarperCollins is set to launch a Web service called Authonomy that will permit writers to publish their unsold work on the major publisher’s site in the hope of attracting readers and the attention of publishers. It’s not clear how readers will be involved, but if an online community gathers on its site, HarperCollins will be able to gauge the market for digital content as well as the growing popularity of genres that are given scant attention in traditional print media. The questions remain whether readers will object to the effort required to filter content and make recommendations to each other and whether the system will be easily gamed.
What HarperCollins proposes to do with authonomy, XOXOX Press has accomplished by serializing Reed Browning’s Trinity: A Haydn & Speaker Mystery on the Web in order to assess readers’ responses and determine whether to release the book in print.
WHO else is giving away ebooks?
Tom Evslin’s mystery novel hackoff.com, about a tech executive imprisoned for fraud who subsequently launches an Internet security consulting firm, is available as a serialized ebook or podcast and in traditional print format. Evslin refers to ebooks distributed in blog format as blooks. He links to a number of them and explains that “readers find blogs without the help of traditional gatekeepers; blogs are ‘discovered’ and become successful (or don’t) in an interesting democratic way.”
Big Head Press plans to serialize on its website Steven Grant’s graphic novel Odysseus the Rebel, illustrated by Scott Bieser, starting in January 2008 before releasing the trade paperback.
These examples are only the proverbial first waves. Expect a surge of new ebook titles when the public settles on its favorite user-friendly digital format.