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August 25, 2010
Are e-Books Cost Effective and Where to Find Them for Free
The Wall Street Journal today features a column by Brett Arends analyzing the cost of e-books over their print counterparts. He points out that the market share of e-books is growing, from 3% to 8% of consumer books, and describes that as "dramatic." He also notes that even with e-book reader prices dropping, the devices are not really cost effective for the casual reader. One would have to buy at least 30 to 75 titles (depending on the savings over print copies) to break even on the cost of the printer. He goes on to note that e-book prices are not always less expensive than the print copies despite the lower overhead costs in preparing and distributing them. He's not arguing against electronic readers as much as suggesting that e-reading isn't a direct money saver except for book lovers who would buy the titles anyway. Then again, for casual readers there is an acceptable price premium paid for convenience, I suppose. Nonetheless, a single paperback is pretty convenient as well.
There are, of course, a lot of free titles that, much to a publisher's dismay, are out of copyright and freely available online. The WSJ article and many of the comments point to Project Gutenberg as a source. Another place to look is the Internet Archive's Digital Lending Library. As the title implies, the site loans books for a two week period using Overdrive technology. A library card from an Overdrive participating library is required. Other books, when cleared of author or publisher rights, are available for free download. Many of the scans I sampled were either from Microsoft's (since abandoned) or Google's scanning project. Hooray to both of them for these contributions.
Other sources for e-books or online books include the Online Books Page from the University of Pennsylvania. The site catalogs titles and locations where they may be viewed or downloaded. There are over 40,000 title in English listed at the site. The site also features a page for Archives and Indexes that list other sources for e-books, search engines for e-books, significant specialty archives, foreign language archives, and subject collections. One of the smaller, significant archives listed, for example is Project Bartleby which lists "great books online," featuring such items as the Harvard Classics and Shelf of Fiction. The Pennsylvania list is a substantial list for sources of free e-books and electronic texts. [MG]