Some time ago I was waiting in line at the DMV, wishing that I had remembered to bring a book with me, when I realized that I always carried my PDA–why not just look for some free e-texts and slurp a few of them into my Handspring? This way I could always have a few books with me, without having to carry paperbacks in my back pockets.
My first stop was Project Gutenburg. They have a huge collection, but it’s limited to works whose copyright has expired. I wanted to read Dickens’ Great Expectations, so this was a worthwhile site. They have many other classics, and even some modern works whose authors have granted PG the rights to distribute their books. But the genre I’m most interested in reading for pleasure is science fiction, particularly contemporary SF, and there is a dearth of that on PG.
A web search for “free science fiction etext” brought me to the Baen Free Library, a site where authors give away some or all of their backlist in hopes of garnering readers’ interest (and money) for their in-print work. It’s also a demonstration against misguided attempts to combat online piracy by ever-tighter restrictions:
Any cure which relies on tighter regulation of the market — especially the kind of extreme measures being advocated by some people — is far worse than the disease. As a widespread phenomenon rather than a nuisance, piracy occurs when artificial restrictions in the market jack up prices beyond what people think are reasonable. The “regulation-enforcement-more regulation” strategy is a bottomless pit which continually recreates (on a larger scale) the problem it supposedly solves. And that commercial effect is often compounded by the more general damage done to social and political freedom.
— from Introducing the Baen Free Library
Well, this was exactly what I was looking for, and the fact that I support the philosophy behind the site is a special bonus. I checked out a few titles and finally decided 1632 sounded interesting enough to download. I liked the story so much that I have now purchased hardcopies of all the books set in that universe. In fact, I’ve discovered about a half-dozen authors via the BFL, and several feet of my bookshelf are occupied by books whose authors “gave away” their work on the BFL, further vindicating the spirit of the project.
The BFL site is a great idea, but it could use a few technical improvements. It employs frames in such a way as to make it difficult to link into the site; for example, I can link to author Eric Flint’s page in the BFL, but the navigation frame will be missing. Another helpful thing the site could provide would be an RSS feed for new content. This would allow
book junkiesavid readers to use their news aggregators to find out about newly available BFL “books” automatically.
If you’re looking for free etexts, both of these sites are well worth perusing.