Don’t Pay for Free E-Books

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — One of the main incentives for buying an e-book reader is taking advantage of the millions of books and magazines whose copyrights have expired and are now available to download digitally for free. But recently, some of the major e-book companies have been found trying to pull a fast one on consumers and charge for books that should cost nothing.

The Washington Post reports that Amazon currently charges anywhere from 99 cents to $4 for several Kindle e-books that are available free elsewhere online. The books in question include titles like Fox Trapping by Arthur Robert Harding, and Canadian Wilds by Martin Hunter. These texts were scanned and uploaded online by Project Gutenberg, a popular website that lets users download books whose copyrights have run out.

According to the Post, “The titles in question aren't just public domain books that have long been freely available at such sites as Project Gutenberg. They appear to be the exact Gutenberg files, save only for minor formatting adjustments and the removal of that volunteer-run site's license information.”

But it seems Amazon is not the only retailer doing this.

Dozens of customers have complained on Barnes & Noble’s comment board that the company charges for public domain editions of e-books, like stories by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities.

As the Post notes however, public domain e-books are allowed to be uploaded and resold by third party sellers, which means companies like Amazon and Barnes & Noble are not actually breaking any law here.

However, consumers should be mindful before spending money on classic e-books. Generally speaking, any book published before 1923 has had its copyright expire and is now part of the public domain. The copyrights on books published after that expire in 95 years. So pay attention to the publication date of the books you’re looking to download.

For those interested in searching for free e-books, Project Gutenberg is indeed one of the best sites to use. The site lists books according to the major file formats supported by various e-readers, and lets users search for e-books by genre and author, or simply browse by the most popular downloads.

Google Books is another great tool for finding free e-books and magazines online. This week, Google overhauled the site to serve as a real e-book marketplace that sells publications at competitive prices, much like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But the big perk of the site is still that it offers millions of older books that users can download for free. Some of the free books include works by renowned authors like James Joyce, Jane Austen and Mark Twain.

Then there’s OpenCulture.org, which rummages through the free e-books available on these and other sites in order to pick out the cream of the crop for users to download.

For each of these sites, all users have to do is download the free e-book file onto their computer and then transfer it to their e-reader in order to read it on the go.

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