Catch up on stories from the past week (and beyond) at the Slashdot story archive


Forgot your password?

Free Books: Under the Radar 288

bcrowell writes "Remember e-books, anti-books, and print-on-demand books? They didn't pan out. The surprise success story is free books." Of course, this defines "success" as number of readers, not in terms of monetary profits. E-books and their ilk were concentrating on the latter definition, rather than the former. Still, it's good to see free books preferred in some circles based on their merit, and not just the cost.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Free Books: Under the Radar

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward
    1. free books
    2. ?
    3. PROFIT!!!
    • Re:business model (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Redline ( 933 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:22PM (#4500121) Homepage Journal
      Joke if you want, but I can fill in 2 for you:
      1. free books
      2. free books act as gateway drug for non-free ebooks.
      3. PROFIT!!!

      It happened to me. When paperbacks started costing > 9 dollars, I stopped buying them. It hurt to decrease my favorite entertainment, but with my scifi/fantasy appetite of 2-4 paperbacks a weekend, I just couldn't afford it.

      Then I heard fictionwise [] was giving away hugo and nebula award nominees. How could I resist? I downloaded them all. After spending a happy hour tweaking Weasel Reader [], I settled in with my Palm to devour some words.

      I was like the recovered junky, who, having one hit, falls deep into addiction again. But I still wasn't going to pay 9 bucks for a paperback, or worse, the same amount for an ebook. I trolled Project Gutenberg, Baen, OReilly look for a good read. That held off the monkey on my back for a little while. Still I needed more. So I went back to fictionwise, credit card in hand, looking for my fix. I discovered that unlike some ebookstores (cough,cough Peanut Press []) not all ebooks were overpriced, DRM'd e-versions of last years NYT bestseller list. fictionwise has TONS of great novels cheap. Real cheap. In text format. Did I mention cheap? And even better: novellas, short stories, serials, all manner of quickie escapism that fit perfectly into the time it takes to ride the bus, or watch your clothes dry.

      So now I'm hooked on cheapie short stories from fictionwise. On Friday nights I used to go down to the Blockbuster and rent 9 dollars worth of DVDs for my weekend entertainment. Now I spend a fun hour browsing an ebookstore, and for 4 dollars (0.30 - 1.50 each) I download a half-dozen good stories to fill my free time.
      • by Servants ( 587312 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @10:38PM (#4501266)

        When paperbacks started costing > 9 dollars, I stopped buying them. It hurt to decrease my favorite entertainment, but with my scifi/fantasy appetite of 2-4 paperbacks a weekend, I just couldn't afford it.

        Dude... haven't you got a library? The original source of free books...

  • In the beginning... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by intermodal ( 534361 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:57PM (#4498963) Homepage Journal
    In the Beginning was the Command Line [] by Neal Stephenson. If you haven't already read it, it's basicaly a history of operating systems and why they are how they are, intertwined with metaphors on how what parts work and a breakdown of OS/GUI variations and such. His stuff is way better than my explanation. It's download it instead of listen to me ramble. If you hate it, the most you've lost is the time you took to DL and read what told you that. Also available in print.
    • by Bonker ( 243350 )
      'Command Line' is one of the finest explanations of the rationale behind GUI-interfaces you can read. It does an excellent job of explaning the differences between Linux, Windows, and Mac interfaces from a usability point of view rather than from a social or financial stance. This is good readin' folks.
    • by cant_get_a_good_nick ( 172131 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:38PM (#4499322)
      Interesting read, but I disagree with a great number of his points. One basic problem is that he thinks a cool operating system is an end in itself, or absolute control of a program is the dominant goal. That may be for some folks, but most people just want to get work done. He then complains that people don't see the obvious, and make the same choices that he made. Folks have different goals, and it's him who can't see other's goals. Still interesting, was worth reading.

      Hmm, so God has a command line. I wonder if he asked Mel to write it in Fortran [].

      • by boa13 ( 548222 )
        Interesting read, (blah blah blah)

        Did you actually read it, or did you just skim through? It seems as if you read the beginning and the ending, missing everything in between.

        What you say he wrote is false. He doesn't think a cool operating system is an end in itself, nor does he say that absolute control of a program is the dominent goal. You imply that he failed to see that most people just want to get the work done, whereas it is his whole point all along. You portray him as someone who has made one definitive choice, which is wrong - at the time of writing, it seems he was using Linux, Windows NT and BeOS, having abandoned Macs a few years before.

        Folks have different goals, and contrary to what you say, he sees that very well. I now wonder what your goal is? Are you genuinely mislead by a quick skim, or are you a most subtle troller? The only valid point you make, and which I repeat here is was worth reading. Very true.
  • by RobPiano ( 471698 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:58PM (#4498978)
    I know lots of people who read both free and e-books.. but that's not why I haven't taken it on, and why I believe the market hasn't taken off either. Reading a book on the computer screen is the pits. Lots of technology has been promised to fix this, but where are the commercial products?

    I glad to see free books are doing well, but I'm not going to read one.

    Rob(ert) #3
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Heck I've offered a free weekly [] photo magazine from Paris and have no takers. It's visual so there's no reading and what the heck.
    • Counterexample: Flyboy Action Figure COmes With Gasmask (or something like that) by punk self-publisher Jim Munroe, available last time I looked for free download at his website, It's outta print in it's paper form (originally published by Harper Collins) and he's not ready to re-release it so he makes it freely available as download. I got it, immediately printed it on regular letter size paper, "bound" it with a binder clip and read it just like that. Easy.

      On the other hand I agree with you. Computers are a great way to make text AVAILABLE but a rotten way to display it for reading. For resolution and ease on the eyes print still rules.

    • by jmv ( 93421 )
      Many free (as in speech) books are available on dead tree (for a fee), the same way you can get the latest Linux distro without downloading.
    • I remember an IBM screen with 300DPI. 300DPI is a sorta maghic number, resolution enough to make it easy to read stuff on screen. Problem it costs an arm and a leg and your house (at least back then). I wonder how far down the manufacturing costs have fallen, though probably no where near 'makes sense for an ebook reader".
    • by f97tosc ( 578893 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:36PM (#4499311)
      Reading a book on the computer screen is the pits.

      That's the issue, isn't it. But what will happen the day when there are screen that are as comfortable to read from as books? Clearly this is only a matter of time. Maybe not soon, but it is bound to happen.

      Then what?

      Especially in education there will probably be a substantial increase in free literature. Especially in basic subjects there will be excellent free alternatives available.

      For mainstream books the issue is more thorny. Naively you would think that publishing houses will loose all their power, and that authors started letting peope download their stuff at rates much, much lower than what would be paid for the book in a store. For some reason though, this did not happen to music. I wonder if publishing houses are as powerful and united as RIAA...

    • by msheppard ( 150231 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @09:44PM (#4500988) Homepage Journal
      The technology to fix this exists. The Palm V and Palm Vx are ideal eBook reading platforms. Reading on the palm kicks paper's ass, to be quite honost.

      Some key features of reading on the palm:
      1. Easy to always have with you. Palm fits in your pocket, paper back will not. Knock off a chapter in line at wall-mart.
      2. Back-light: Read in the dark without keeping anyone else up.
      3. Bookmark/Annotate: Look stuff up later, never loose your place.
      4. Very easy to hold in one hand and turn pages. Try that with a paperback.
      5. Download now means at 4am if I finish a book, I can download another one right away.
      6. Easy to share.
      7. Search.

      I am very much sick of hearing people knock reading on the palm (or eBooks in general) becuase "The Paper Book is the perfect interface." I have to reply with a resounding, "NOT!" I read a lot, every day. And since starting to read on the Palm, I always prefer it to paper.

      Please do *NOT* assume when someone says they are reading an eBook that they are sitting in front of a 21inch monitor in an office building. Picture me, in a lean-to on the side of Mount Washington, reading a little Mark Twain at 2am becuase I can't get to sleep.

  • by soapvox ( 573037 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:59PM (#4498990)
    It would be a great thing if teachers could entice children to take advantage of these free books to extend literacy. This could also possibly show the benefits of shortening the copyrights that keep getting extended by allowing educational institutions distribute the content and reduce overhead costs at the same time.
  • BRUCE ECKEL! (Score:5, Informative)

    by FortKnox ( 169099 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @04:59PM (#4498991) Homepage Journal
    Bruce Eckel [] has all of his "Thinking in" books available in pdf format on his webpage. You can also buy the hardbound version in local bookstores. So you can have your cake and eat it too. It seems like he's pretty successful in his method, too.

    I, personally, own a copy of Thinking in Java and Thinking in C++, and recommend it to all Java/C++ programmers. Check it out on the website, and buy a copy if you like it.
    • More books. (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Eckel gets it.

      Here's more gratis books. Site 1 [] | Site 2 (Math) []

    • And just to point out the benefits of publishing Free As In Beer books: I've downloaded "Thinking In Java" (as have all my interns) just as FortKnox mentioned above. And yet, I've also purchased both the original and the 2nd edition paper version books (as have many of my interns). Why? Because it's still way easier to flip through a dead tree version of a book in order to find things. It's still easier to toss a paper book in your backpack and it's certainly easier to read the print and diagrams.

      Now, I must say that I have several e-books on my Visor and that works out just great when I go to lunch and want to read something while I eat. But I certainly wouldn't want to try to relax in bed at night while trying to read that tiny print on a dark screen. So I think what we have here is the idea of a new technology which is still valid, but the implementation of that technology hasn't caught up with the idea. Give me a cheap e-book reader the size and weight of a paperback book with high quality fonts on a readable background with enough memory to hold a couple dozen books and e-books would be seriously take off!

  • Baen Free Library (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:00PM (#4499003)
    From the article:

    . Book publishers like Baen and O'Reilly, however, have found that they can increase sales of their printed books by giving away the digital versions for free. This has also been my own experience with my self-published physics textbooks. It's cheap marketing: readers can browse the digital book to see if it's something they want, and if they like it, they're willing to pay for the convenience of a printed copy.

    Strangely, the author fails to link to the Baen Free Library: []

    It's funny. Publishers are starting to get what Microsoft has known for a while. 'Piracy' is in reality free advertising. Why don't the record companies and movie studios get it?
    • by Nathanbp ( 599369 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:09PM (#4499081)
      'Piracy' is in reality free advertising. Why don't the record companies and movie studios get it?

      Probably because there is nothing to be gained by buying a copy of movie or a song after pirating it, whereas for software you buy it for upgrades or tech support and for books you buy it so that you can hold it in your hands instead of reading on the computer screen. If the record and movie companies provided free low quality copies of their works, they might be able to use this to get people to buy them in high quality formats. But, as it stands now, the quality of a downloaded song or movie is good enough that people don't seem to think its worth buying it for the quality increase.
      • by Bonker ( 243350 )
        Probably because there is nothing to be gained by buying a copy of movie or a song after pirating it, whereas for software you buy it for upgrades or tech support and for books you buy it so that you can hold it in your hands instead of reading on the computer screen.

        By this same logic, most people who can download books can print them pretty cheaply if they don't use a laser printer. Upgrades can be just as easily pirated as original software.

        You're right about the tech support thing about software. You don't get a nice cover or dust jacket with a downloaded book, either, and have to keep it bound in notebook.

        By the same token, if you downloaded 'Lord of the Rings' on the internet, you didn't get extras like trailers, directors' comments, animated interactive menus, mini-posters, etc... When you buy a CD you get a lot of the same stuff. CD's are a bad example, though, because the Music industry is trying as hard as it can to give as little to their customers as they can get away with.

        For a better example, when the Hellsing anime was released in Japan, I downloaded fansubs of the show online. When it was released in the U.S., I bought the DVD. Inside the Vol2. DVD, I got a cool miniposter of Alucard and Cellas, a post card, and a really neat Hellsign sew-on/iron-on patch.
        • Re:Baen Free Library (Score:2, Interesting)

          by bcrowell ( 177657 )
          By this same logic, most people who can download books can print them pretty cheaply if they don't use a laser printer.
          It depends on the book. For most books, it is not possible to print it yourself at a price lower than what it costs at a bookstore. For instance, a paperback novel at $7 is cheaper than the paper and ink cartridges you'd need to pay for to print it on an inkjet printer. Also, if you print it yourself, you're getting an inferior product: it's single-sided, and it's not bound.

          The main exception I'm aware of is overpriced college textbooks. For example, my own free textbook [] is aimed at a market (introductory physics without calculus) where the standard price is $120. The price of do-it-yourself printing is more like $60, and it's no coincidence that if you buy a [rinted copy of my 6-volume set from me, the price adds up to a little more than $60.

    • by Syncdata ( 596941 )
      Book publishers like Baen and O'Reilly, however, have found that they can increase sales of their printed books by giving away the digital versions for free... 'Piracy' is in reality free advertising. Why don't the record companies and movie studios get it?

      Well, there is a difference between reading and audio. People don't want to get monitor eyestrain from pleasure reading, and a printed book is usually quite portable. Putting a book out for free will entice a user to purchase the physical copy, for the aforementioned benefits, whereas the same cannot be said for MP3s, which suffer little loss in fidelity or functionality in the trip from .cda to .mp3.
      Personally, I still wouldn't give the whole book away, I'd pull an Orson Scott Card []and post the first three chapters online to hook in readers.
      • by Jason Earl ( 1894 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @11:49PM (#4501588) Homepage Journal

        Three chapters might be enough for Orson Scott Card, who already has a fairly large following, but it certainly isn't enough for authors that are less well known. Besides, why be stingy? If you aren't going to put the whole book up on the Internet what does it hurt to put nearly all of the book on the Internet? You still have to buy the book to find out how it ends, and no one is likely to read 80% of a book and then not finish it.

        The folks at Baen aren't stupid. Most sci-fi/fantasy novels nowadays are actually part of a series, and Baen isn't giving away any series in its entirety. I have bought several books from them from authors I had never heard of because I liked the books I was able to read for free.

        I actually prefer reading on my Visor, and I refuse to buy encrypted ebooks, and that means that and are getting the lion's share of my book dollars.

    • Particularly the RIAA, as featured in a recent slashdot posting, is using piracy as a smokescreen to keep the barriers to entry high because they make more money on million sellers.

      For the MPAA, I think it is different as the barriers to entry are pretty high for motion pictures. They don't like their own DVD products cutting into theature box office, so maybe they really are more concerned with piracy. At current bandwidth, I'd be surprised if P2P style exchanges are really that big of a problem for them, but mass produced grey market sales of actual discs probably is. They should be able to attack this problem without pissing off customers with restrictive DRM, but they seem to be heading down the wrong path.

  • You gotta love it... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pVoid ( 607584 )
    I just downloaded the [5] Warren Siegel, Fields [] book...

    I have to admit I take a certain joy in seeing that a whole book on fields is a mere 3 Meg download.

  • cool, but... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by scrod98 ( 609124 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:01PM (#4499012)
    Part of the problem with digital books wasn't just the price, but the format on-screen. Most people (i.e. the general public) won't sit and read from a computer screen for the length of time to read a book. Now, surfing for pron or killin' aliens is a different matter...
    • by eddy ( 18759 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:21PM (#4499196) Homepage Journal

      Yes, and that is the incentative!

      It's frustrating seeing all these objections to the format. Much of the point of these free books is to get people hooked and get them to buy the real thing, right? Right?

      It's not dead-tree _versus_ electronic. It's dead-tree _in addition to_ electronic. That's the key.

      The electronic version; cheap, not as comfortable to read, good for searching/citing.
      dead-tree version; expensive, very comfortable to read, not made for searching, looks good on shelf.

      See how they complement each other?

      I love the free books out there. I think it's brilliant. I've read Eckels material and I've recommended it to many many people based on the "check out the electronic version". I hope he's doing well.

      The format issue notwithstanding, one great point is reader interaction and feedback. Publishing during the drafting period seems like a good way to get extra proofing and feedback, which makes for a better product, and better products sell more (music excepted :-o)

  • Free Universes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ParnBR ( 601156 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:03PM (#4499025) Homepage
    It would be nice if we also had something like free literary universes. I mean, you could write fiction which would add to an existing universe and its storylines. In the mentioned article, they touch the subject of open-source books. Although there's some intriguing thought there, I don't think the issue is taken broadly. It seems the original article doesn't focus in any specific book genre, but I think it's safe to assume it deals more specifically to reference books, not literary books. Any further thoughts on this?
    • Re:Free Universes (Score:3, Insightful)

      by raydobbs ( 99133 )
      The main problem with free (as in speech) universes is that someone had to labor to produce it - they had to have the inspiration to come up with it. Simply writing a line, and handing it to the next person is NOT what I believe this person had in mind.

      Many writers feel very passionately about their settings, their characters, and their hard work. As an unpublished writer, I cringe every time people come up with an non-cannonical version of this, that, or the other thing - totally ruining the vision of characters, places, and events simply because the author didn't take the time to do his research.

      With that said, however - the concept (if you could make it work, and enforce integrity) of free universes is appealing in that the story, and your characters live on after either you have died, or have moved on to other things.
    • Re:Free Universes (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Frater 219 ( 1455 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @09:21PM (#4500843) Journal
      It would be nice if we also had something like free literary universes. I mean, you could write fiction which would add to an existing universe and its storylines.

      Aside from fanfic with its dubious legal status and contention with "canon", there is one example of this very idea which Slashdot readers may be familiar with: the Cthulhu Mythos [].

      The Mythos was begun by H. P. Lovecraft, who encouraged his fans to write stories in his settings. (There was little audience for the horror-SF genre at the time, and every good story was a boon to its popularity.) After Lovecraft's death, and to the present day, followers have continued to write and publish stories featuring Lovecraft's strange gods and cosmic horrors.

      Like more commercially produced shared settings such as Star Trek, the Mythos and associated tales have spawned movies, magazines, and even a roleplaying game [].

      Sad to say, Lovecraft died in obscurity and poverty, which does not say much for starting a freely expandable universe as a means of employment. Nonetheless, it has certainly been a success in terms of storytelling.

      (Lovecraft was by no means the only author who has invited fans to write in his universe. Another, rather more recently, told his readers to go ahead and write stories in his universe -- and then rescinded the offer after a fan wrote a story that offended him! The author in question was Larry Niven; the universe was Known Space; the fan was Elf Sternberg; the story was "The Only Fair Game" [].)

  • by carpe_noctem ( 457178 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:03PM (#4499026) Homepage Journal
    I really love the safari service at oreilly []. You can basically check out 5 books for 10$ per month. Pretty nice, because I really love oreilly books, but couldn't afford to buy hard copies of them all. Unfortunately, the bastard company that runs this has a pretty crappy pricing model (automatic billing, and when you cancel your account, it is inactive immediately rather than at the end of the billing period).

    Still, I think this is a good compromise, in the same way that if artists sold their cd's online for a reasonabele amount of money, people would be less tempted to pirate their respective work.
    • And of course O'Reilly produces a lot of free as in beer and speach content. And it pays off for them because I know a lot of people like myself who will buy a dead tree version of a free book just to encourage such behavior. All in all O'Relly rules.
    • I like safari as well, but unlike you I actually have most of the books that they make available...

      It's nice to see the new books come out and decide if I want to get them... But mainly I use the service as a reference... I can access the site anywhere, so if I am on a customer's site and need to look up something, it's pretty easy to jump in..

      I keep several slots free just for this reason, I can pick whatever book I need at the time.

      Good service, though I would like a bit better user interface.

    • In general O'Reilly has been one of the best publishers when it comes to free books. Their open book program [] has a lot of books in it that, unlike the Safari books, are free as in beer.

      However, they also seem to be contributing to this disturbing trend of ``un-freeing'' free books. This book [] used to be free at the author's web page []. If you click on the link, you'll find that it no longer exists. The book is no longer free, and you can only get the electronic version through Safari.

  • Eric Raymond's name is closely associated with the bazaar model, while Richard Stallman's evokes the cathedral

    I appear to have made a vast mistake when reading and interpreting Mr. Raymond's work - it was my impression that his 'Cathedral' metaphor was used to describe closed, proprietary software design similar to Microsoft's, not Stallman's GPL'd design method. Was I wrong? Or is the author wrong?

    • Richard Stallman definatly represents the Bizarre.

      "Rhinophytonecrophilia" comes to mind.
    • No cathedral means that the development is centralized and it applies to most of RMS is doing. I think it may also apply to proprietaty software too, since it's mostly about development process, not free/non-free issues.
    • Heh, the original article certainly had a LOT to chew on with respect to Raymond, failure of Nupedia (did it fail?), Stallman, etc.

      The GPL is not a design method it is license. How one actually develops the project might be the author's point. Closed shop development can produce a GPL'd product. Also, it might just be the notion of control of a project - is it rigid (hierarchical) or flexible (very flat).

      I got the feeling that the author is pointing out how an INDIVIDUAL can produce a great product (like his textbooks) if he has access to royalty-free information that he can use in his own work.

      Note how the author points out Raymond's use of the cathedral approach to write his popular book. Essentially that was Raymond ALONE producing a work. Likewise, Stallman with EMACS - on his own but using other's work as well.

      Look at this quote:

      "The failure of the bazaar model with free books might not seem surprising, since to most people it sounds like the silly party game where each person takes a turn adding more onto a story. We normally assume that an author has a unique voice, and that authorship can't be delegated."

      I really think his point is that lots of people editing, revising, adding chapters, fixing, etc. doesn't apply as well to books...except in the case of technical documentation.

      For example, an author who has a particular teaching method and writing style that he wants to consistently use across chapters will not (and should not) be open to others messing with his text outside of the purely technical side of things. The end result though can be something that is free for all to change, edit, etc.

      I like the author's approach because creativity usually means the artist/author/etc. realizes his own ideas in the form of the project. Projects that are not purely technical may not be best done with bazaar like methods. Too many chefs spoil the broth :) Construction by committee often doesn't yield very artistic results. etc.

      Basically, realize your own project goals and then allow others to benefit as they want from them.
    • You have indeed made a mistake, but (judging by other replies) it is a common one.

      To quote ESR's paper:
      I believed that the most important software (operating systems and really large tools like the Emacs programming editor) needed to be built like cathedrals, carefully crafted by individual wizards or small bands of mages working in splendid isolation, with no beta to be released before its time.
      I don't see how this can possibly be interpreted as Proprietary == Cathedral. There are plenty of other hints that it's Linux == Bazaar, GNU == Cathedral.

      Probably most proprietary software is also cathedral, simply due to small number of developers with eyes on the code, but there are organisations which have large enough development teams that they could possibly run a project bazaar-style without opening it up outside the organisation.
  • by ChicoLance ( 318143 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:04PM (#4499036)
    It's great that with the Internet, it's gotten easier to self-publish your own works. Just like web pages, free books are a way for anybody to get the point out to the general public. However, now that anybody is allowed to do this, now the general public has figure out the difference between the good and the bad.

    As far as e-books go, they've been promising that we'll have everything on microfiche since the 60's, and that the book is dead. Until I can read a book online and be able to find a subject quickly by "thumbing" though the book, there will always be room for paper books.
  • by emarkp ( 67813 ) <slashdot.roadq@com> on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:06PM (#4499051) Journal
    I tried to post this as an article, but it was rejected.

    Orson Scott Card (author of Ender's Game) has posted a copy of his short story Angles for free on his website []. He also wrote an interesting piece [] about copyright back in May of this year. An interesting quote:

    And for those who say, Ah, but would you put your books online where people could download them for free? -- well, my answer is, I not only would, I did. Until the bookstore chains made me stop.

    It didn't cost me royalties. It widened my audience. But try persuading a greedy paranoid of that!

    He also routinely puts up the first few chapters of his books online, before they're published so you can get a taste of them before buying. I'm surprised more people don't have this attitude.
  • e-boooks will work (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tensor ( 102132 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:06PM (#4499052)
    ebooks will work as soon as there are viable, usable devices for everyone to read them on.

    Pdas at $500 with tiny screens to read on won't do. Sure there are pluses to them, reading in total darkness is cool, it makes you more "attuned" to what you are reading (less distractions around for your eyes to wander). But they are not for everyone. And reading them on your large computer screen sucks for various reasons, posture is not inteneded for reading for one. ITs ok for manuals and on line help, beacuse you are using the program at the same time, but -at lest for me- ebooks? nah.

    Free ebooks are another thing altogether. You download them cos they're free, and to "build up" an elibrary, it doesn't mean you actually read them all. Eg: I d/l all Verne's books and only reread 2000 leagues, and Journey, I have a jornada i use almost solely as a contacts and ebook reader.
    • by tkrotchko ( 124118 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:02PM (#4499503) Homepage
      I understand tech books, but for the types of books you read once...novels, fiction, that sort of thing, the paperback book is a thing of beauty.

      It fits comfortably in hand, requires no power, can be stored in a large pocket or small backpack, and its cheap enough that if it gets lots, you don't care, I can loan it to my friends if I want, I can throw it away, I can store it on a shelf, virtually indestructable, theft resistant and it requires no electricity to use. I can even use it in the hot tub or swimming pool, and it if gets wet, well, when you dry it out, it usually pretty usable. Its perfect packaging for the human animal.

      So if I have a reader for my ebook, I'm getting a fragile device that will have DRM built into it, will require electricity, and will be difficult to read.

      Rather than try to improve one of the perfect human inventions (the paperback book), why not work on something useful like a good, cheap DVD player for linux?
      • It fits comfortably in hand
        As does a pda.

        can be stored in a large pocket or small backpack
        As can a PDA. The difference being I can carry a bookshelf worth of books in my pocket.

        and its cheap enough that if it gets lots, you don't care
        I'll give the advantage there to books on paper as opposed to pda. But if something's valuable to me I'm not going to lose it.

        So if I have a reader for my ebook, I'm getting a fragile device
        I've been carrying around my ipaq in my pocket for about two years now, and it's never gotten so much as a scratch from the wear in a tiny case. While I don't get out as much as I'd like, I'm in woods and parks enough that I'd hardly call it fragile. Heck, it's lasted longer than my rice cooker.

        that will have DRM built into it
        I admit that part I'm not so fond of. While it dosn't make it any more legal, I usually just buy the paperback and download the ebook from a binary group. I wouldn't mind the DRM angle so much, but the publishing of ebooks is so sporatic that I'll often find a series with only a couple books of it in ebook form.

        will require electricity
        Not significant enough to really matter for me at least. I usually get about a seven to ten hour charge if reading under good lighting, and in low or dark light I wouldn't have been able to read it at all. Four rechargeable double A bateries are enough to just about double the time as well for long trips, so all in all it's a slight advantage in my opinion.

        nd will be difficult to read.
        A lot of people have good eyesight :)
      • Although you make a good point about the format of the paperback being really easy to use - I have found one thing about my PDA that I prefer: access. I always have my PDA with me. I wear the thing on my belt, so that it is always available. On a business trip, I went through an entire novel with the spare time I had.

        Your points about paperbacks are good - don't get me wrong. It is just that I do not carry a paperback book around with me, (and probably won't) - but I will always have my PDA. And therein lies the rub: even a two minute wait for a bus or a ride is not too short a time to read. I suppose what a person would need to match the convenience of what I have is a belt pouch - paperback size. That would be as handy as my current rig. But some of those paperbacks are pretty thick - and you thought the PDA sized belt pouch looked goofy. ;-)

        The other benefit of the electronic book is freshness. Fresh paper costs money, but downloads are (essentially) free. And as long as people publish in .PDF or .PDB format (or I can point Avantgo at it), I can get material for (almost) free.
  • by ohboy-sleep ( 601567 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:07PM (#4499062) Homepage
    When they say they're free books, do they mean novel-length stories with real plots, or do they mean things like Seven-of-Nine/Highlander crossover fan-fiction?
  • BookCrossing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by webword ( 82711 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:09PM (#4499077) Homepage
    Some people will be interested in BookCrossing [].

    From the site: "What is BookCrossing, you ask? It's a global book club that crosses time and space. It's a reading group that knows no geographical boundaries. Do you like free books? How about free book clubs?. Well, the books our members leave in the wild are free... but it's the act of freeing books that points to the heart of BookCrossing. Book trading has never been more exciting, more serendipitous, than with BookCrossing. Our goal, simply, is to make the whole world a library. BookCrossing is a book exchange of infinite proportion, the first and only of its kind."
  • by joesao ( 466680 )
    No mention of Philg books, apparently.

    His Travels With Samantha [] was one of the first online free books ever, circa 1992-3. Later, he wrote the stupendous book on web publishing, Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing [] with his samoyed, Alex.

    Two very good reads by a very good writer. Sorry, I know some people don't like Philip and this isn't flamebait -- I truly admire many of his initiatives, like the free Remindme and Clickthrough services, in addition to the remarkable which has grown enormous tentacles nowadays. Both books are intimately related to those efforts.

  • by jsav40 ( 614902 )
    a staple on my PDA ever since I acquired it. No it is not convenient to read in that format but it is very handy to have a dozen or so books on my Handspring, especially while traveling. I will certainly embrace the addition of newer titles- most of what has been availble until mow has been Project Gutenberg/public domain stuff.
  • Project Gutenberg (Score:5, Informative)

    by forged ( 206127 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:11PM (#4499100) Homepage Journal
    Funny that no one has mentionned Project Gutenberg [] so far. If you don't know what they do, check it out here [].
  • O'Reilly (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jericho4.0 ( 565125 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:11PM (#4499101)
    Three weeks after puchasing 'Linux Device Drivers, 2nd Ed.', I found some time to dig into it. A few pages into it, I was suprised to discover the sentence; 'The authors have chosen to make this book freely available under the GNU Free Documentation License'.

    Well, I kinda with I had my $40, but I was glad in the end to have paid for it. Kudos to O'Reilly, Alessandro Rubini and Jonathan Corbet for doing it, like I need another reason to like O'Reilly. I hope examples like these will encourage others to do the same, after all, free software can be close to useless without documentation.

  • Nice idea, but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Chastitina ( 253566 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:11PM (#4499103)
    When I pick up a book, it is to escape from staring at the monitor all day. I like to kick back with a nice hot cup of tea and one of my cats in my lap & relax, which somehow isn't possible even with my comfy computer setup.

    While I have never depended on a "publisher to make an editorial decision," I do depend on my friends & get most of my recommendations from folks who only turn on a PC to check e-mail. This resulted in my dropping over $100 yesterday, alone on stuff such as Dylan Thomas, Bukowski, Pratchett, Le Guin, Naipail, and Hardy. Many of these are copyrighted classics that won't be available online for another 75+ years and all are well worth paying $7-35 for a lifetime of enjoyment. Yes, they'll sit on my shelf and represent killed trees, but the electricity required to power my PC long enough was probably generated with coal that will shorten the lives of even more trees and people as well. My library, on the other hand, is passed around to all my interested friends and family, a warm, physical, and comforting way to share enjoyment of the greatest poetry and prose. As with all great electronic innovations, "free" online books bypass the enjoyable interpersonal element, be it of sharing a story or chatting with the librarian.

    Yes, there could be some great literature online & maybe someday I'll find something work getting a headache to read. For now, however, I'm content with a system that ain't broke; the bookstore when I've got the money and the library when I don't.

    • Re:Nice idea, but (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Can we give the "dead trees" image a rest? We can grow new trees, and do. It's hardly the same situation as, say, oil or copper or some other resource that can grow back in a few years.

    • Re:Nice idea, but (Score:4, Insightful)

      by renard ( 94190 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @09:53PM (#4501043)
      While I have never depended on a "publisher to make an editorial decision," I do depend on my friends....

      This is a silly thing to say, since by reading only published books you are in fact doing precisely that. Where do you think your friends get their book leads? Talking to author agents at book conventions and trolling through publishers' slush piles? How many unpublished manuscripts have you read? Ever? It is even harder to get one of those in bound form than free and online.


  • The Honorverse Disk (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ek_adam ( 442283 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:15PM (#4499137) Homepage

    War of Honor is the tenth Honor Harrington book by David Weber. It includes a CD in the back of the book that contains the full text of all of the Honor Harrington books in HTML and a couple of eBook formats. The license printed on the CD is interesting and short.

    This disk and its contents may be copied and shared, but NOT sold.
    The publisher, Baen Books, has made much of its backlist available [] for free on the web. It pays. Readers get interested in the online stories, then a significant percentage want and buy printed copies.
  • by Trusty Penfold ( 615679 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:16PM (#4499147) Journal

    I define the success of a book as whether people enjoyed it or not.

    Of course if it is $0 it will have lots of downloads ... that says nothing about whether people read more than the first page of the thing or not.

    Please, lets try to be a bit more scientific around here!
  • by CresentCityRon ( 2570 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:16PM (#4499148)
    I wish the cited article had a few more examples to support its claims. I didn't feel like his arguments were all that strong - and I wish they were!

    You can tell the article is weak since everyone posting is posting about the ideas and not about the content of the link!
  • by geek ( 5680 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:18PM (#4499167)
    However I LOVE dead tree books. I have read somewhere close to 2 thousand books in my lifetime, possible more.

    I like sitting by the lamp at night with a book. The print is readable, the smell of the book helps put me into the mood and settles me in. The act of turning the pages further engrosses me in the moment.

    My daughter totally loves the idea of printed books. She is just starting to learn how to read and is fascinated by the paper books. She signs her name in the front cover of every book as a ritual.

    Now I know TV replaced radio in a lot of ways. I know color replaced black and white. However I do not see e-books taking over anything for the simple fact they are LESS useful, not more. Perhaps in the case of manuals and installation instructions, but never in the case of a novel.

    People touting e-books seem to come off as "nonreaders" to me. They think of the content only and not the experience as a whole. I love books, you wont see me reading PDF's unless I have too. I don't mind paying for a book.
    • you wont see me reading PDF's unless I have too

      Who said anything about PDFs?

      I like sitting by the lamp at night with a Handspring. The print is readable, the glow of the backlight helps put me into the mood and settles me in. The act of clicking the down button further engrosses me in the moment.

      My monkey totally loves the idea of electronic books. She is just starting to learn how to read and is fascinated by the infinite texts accessible through one hand-sized unit. She annotates every text with her responses as a ritual.

      Now I know TV hasn't replaced radio in a lot of ways. I know black and white is still printed far more often than colour. However I do not see print books persisting for fiction in the long term for the simple fact they are LESS useful, not more. You can't grep a print book or annotate it and share your thoughts on the web. Perhaps in the case of textbooks with diagrams and complex instructions, but never in the case of a novel.

      People dismissing e-books seem to come off as "non-e-book-readers" to me. They think of the format only and not the experience as a whole. I love books, you'll see me browsing Fictionwise [] regularly. I don't mind paying for an e-book.

  • links (Score:2, Informative)

    here is a link [] that lists quite a few ebook readers. I've used a number of them, and they a lot of them are easy on the eyes (large fonts, good schemes, etc).
  • by spagiola ( 234461 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:21PM (#4499195)
    As many have noted, here and elsewhere, reading on a screen is terrible. Which is, IMHO, an important reason why efforts to sell e-novels have flopped, and will continue to flop. The big potential, again IMHO, is in reference books. There, the limited screen format is less of a burden, because the amount you need to read is limited. And the ability to search is a huge plus. It's no surprise that the most successful e-books seem to be programming manuals and the like.
  • by Theodore Logan ( 139352 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:22PM (#4499211)
    For all the open-source software movement's successes, I'm not aware of any case in which an entrenched proprietary program was pushed out of first place in the market by open-source software.

    Linux was in 1999 (I don't know how it is today) the most widely used server operating system on the internet.

    Apache is the top web server.

    PHP has surpassed ASP in terms of number of users and is now the most widely used server side scripting language.

    Sendmail is the leading email server (over, for example, Microsoft Exchange).

    OpenSSH is the Internet's most widely used implementation of SSH.

    Granted, some of these may never have pushed anything other than other OSS/FS products out of first place (such as Apache, whose predecessor was the NCSA web server), but aren't there a gazillion other examples anyway? I have a hard time taking anyone who makes such bold assertions, without even trying to first evaluate them, seriously.
  • by MarkWatson ( 189759 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:22PM (#4499216) Homepage
    This seems a little obvious, but I might as well say it: The Internet is all about relativley small groups of people getting together who share common interests. I think that self publishing on the web, like maintaining personal web sites, is an obvious way to share information and make contacts with people with similar interests.

    People always seem to be at their best when in small groups. The internet has the positive affect of cutting out the middleman and in some cases, perhaps slows down globalization (sometimes a good thing, but usually not - globalization tends to hurt people in developing countries who have the least).

    It is a great feeling to publish a real physical book, but I have found that I have had to make at least two compromises with the traditional publishing process, mainly:

    • constrained to write about popular subjects
    • books that get out of date technologically are still sold (for many of my published books, I really liked them when they were fresh, but 4 or 5 years later, they seemed really dated, but were still being sold)
    Anyway, when writing free web books, an author (like me!) can choose topics that are interesting but niche. I beg for small donations for my free web books, and I am pleasantly surprised at the amount of donations that I receive (currently, I get 3 or 4 cents per download, on the average, in donations).

    I am working on a third free web book (The Software Design Book), so I do believe in this process.


  • by NetDanzr ( 619387 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:23PM (#4499224)
    I have the feeling that palm-held devices are becoming the most widely-used platforms for e-books, not computers with their monitors. Owning a Sony Clie, I have't read a paper-based book for over a year now. In fact, my eyes adjust to the small screen better than to printed books.
  • link (Score:4, Informative)

    by jericho4.0 ( 565125 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:24PM (#4499226)
    The Open Book Project []

    It's not much of a collection right now, but the quality level is high. Especially good is 'How to Think Like a Computer Scientist', a good introduction to programming that lives up to the title. It covers several languages.

  • 350 and growing (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cacheMan ( 150533 )
    By getting this story to slashdot, I wonder how many additional books they will find. I don't really understand what the author is saying about open source software never replacing proprietary software and becoming #1 for a particular use. What about apache, perl, and a boatload of other best in class open source software apps?
  • by lobos ( 88359 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:30PM (#4499274)
    I like having a physical book. I like being able to make marks on pages, put sticky notes on pages that I can feel on turn to, have the book in my hand, take it where I want to and it never needs electricty.

    Sure, some people may like it. But that's why a free market is so great. You can use what you like. I also learned in a technical writing class that reading from a computer screen is 25% slower than reading from a book. My own experience tells me this is true as well.
    • I have about 100 linear feet of computer-related books. I also have probably a third of them in some e-format. 9 times out of 10, I find myself consulting the hardcopy, because it's a helluva lot easier to see what I'm trying to do/fix onscreen when there's not an ebook in my way, and because it's a lot easier to flip back and forth between bookmarked items in the hardcopy.

      Tho an ebook is more useful than hardcopy when I'm trying to find some term that's not in the index, or when I need to clip a passage to quote to someone else.

  • eBooks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ScooterBill ( 599835 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:31PM (#4499280)
    I am totally unsurprised that the non-free eBook market is languishing. The other day I go to Amazon to look for a new book. The hardcover edition was on sale for $18. The digital eBook was $21. This kind of greed (eBooks are arguably less expensive to distribute and have almost no chance of being re-read in a secondary market) is why the established publishers are in for a hard lesson in reality. Same goes with music, etc, etc...
  • slashdotted (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:35PM (#4499306) Homepage
    The Assayer [] appears to be partially slashdotted right now. It's still serving up static HTML, but it won't let you use any of the CGIs, so you can't browse the database, read reviews, sign on as a member, or write reviews right now. That's a shame, since I ended the article with a plea for reviews! I hope people will try back later when the server is able to handle the load. Lots of people have already posted here on Slashdot about their favorite free books, and it would be great if they could put reviews on The Assayer eventually.
  • by dmoynihan ( 468668 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:36PM (#4499308) Homepage
    Funny thing, Project Gutenberg [], Eric Eldred's site [] and, oh, other places [] give away pretty much every public domain Dover reprint that we can get our scanners on. Gutenberg and other sites have shown phenomenal growth in readership... a lot of people are downloading and reading these classic titles.

    So how's that affecting Dover's business (Dover produces no new titles, apart from original translations of non-copyrighted work)? They're booming. []

    Heck, with those sort of results, Dover ought to be providing financial support for PG (or at least releasing edited/translated titles into the public domain). Though I guess I'll settle for that nice brief [] they filed in Eldred's behalf.

    Slight disclaimer here, Dover was bought by a big printing company that's really helped them with distribution (just came back from the beach and all the little bookstores there were well-stocked with Dover thrifts), but every other publisher on the planet has seen sales fall [], while Dover's sales, since the acquisition, have grown tremendously.

  • free books (Score:2, Interesting)

    A great place for free book is over at
    It has some great books there, although some may be outdated
  • by ziriyab ( 549710 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:41PM (#4499346)
    The free book idea is great, and I don't want to nit-pick (read: "of course means I want to nit-pick and am about to do so"), but there are some problems with the article:

    at least two of [these free books] [4] [],[5] seem to be the standard textbooks in their field today

    Reference 4 is by no means the standard textbook in the field of biophysics. I've been in the field for at least 6 years and this is the first I've heard of this book. None of my professors have ever mentioned it either.

    Microsoft can't just say, "Romeo and Juliet was a big success for Shakespeare, so we'll write something similar."

    Doesn't this happen all the time? Isn't West Side Story just Romeo and Juliet again? Isn't any star-crossed lover movie that women flock and drag their men to a remake of Romeo and Juliet? Wasn't the Leonardo DiCrapio remake an embraced and extended version of R&J?

    Books, however, are easy to use, and most computer users know how to use an electronic book that is in the ubiquitous (and nonproprietary) Adobe Acrobat format.

    Isn't pdf proprietary?

    Finally, a story on free literature that doesn't link the asstr [] is not complete by any means :)

  • Community Writing (Score:3, Informative)

    by vodka2112 ( 468331 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:43PM (#4499357)
    Well, it's not entirely true that community writing doesn't pan out. The author mentions Nupedia as a failed effort, but there are many examples of places where this kind of "group writing" has worked very well.

    The best I can think of is Everything []. I spend many hours reading the stuff there every week. Though it cannot be called an encyclopedia by any stretch of imagination, I've found it to be a very valuable source of general contemporary info.

    Then there's the Encyclopedia Mythica [].

    Someone just mentioned Project Gutenberg too. It's a community effort that's coming out very well indeed. I know that it's not not community authorship, but a community effort.

    There are many more counter-examples I can provide. Hell, even the usenet archives are a very useful source of info sometimes.

    Community writing should not be written off (pardon the pun) lightly.

  • group-authorship.. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by deego ( 587575 )
    The author says that "group-authorship" just hasn't caught on.

    I beg to disagree. Wikis are rapidly becoming very popular, and there, typically gets content added to, by many people.,, come to mind. The latter, is already very successfull---is one of the most likely places an emacs/elisp newbie will find the answer to their questions
  • Free Book Links (Score:2, Informative)

    by FosterSJC ( 466265 )
    It seems to me that most of the free books mentioned on this thread are sci-fi, and popular fiction. It is by virtue of this fact that these dispersion methods for books have not caught on more. The more popular the book, the more likely one is to charge for it. Perhaps we ought to start organizing things in the public domain, and things like classics, technical works, etc, that are more likely to be thought of as "free". Make these books accessible, and create a good interface, to show proof of concept in terms of readers and the bigger guys may come around, at least to publishing on and off-line works (the online versions being free or very cheap). Here are my links to some stellar classics archives. Aside from some of the more obscure math and science works, I believe my whole school's curriculum [] is available for free on the web:

    Perseus Project []

    Great Books Index []

    The Internet Classics Archive []

    Bartleby []

    Enjoy these free reads. They are the greatest books ever written.
  • O'Reilly Safari (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jpt.d ( 444929 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2002 @05:52PM (#4499427)
    "Looming on the horizon instead, with every prospect of success, were the "anti-books:" electronic books encumbered with {odious licensing terms} and {restrictive digital rights management technology.[2]} You wouldn't be able to loan such a book to a friend, public libraries couldn't acquire it, and if you stopped paying your rental fee, it would expire and become unreadable! "

    That sounds exactly like Safari (which I am currently a member of). The {} may or may not apply. The only digital rights management there exists is that which will make it very inconvenient to say print the entire book out. I believe Safari is a success and does not include only O'Reilly books. It is a lot cheaper than buying a book, for access to a few.
  • was written by Rick Cook. []

    Wizard's Bane, Compiled, and Cursed are all available online.

    They're stories about a normal guy who is transported using magic to a fantasy world where he's the man because he's an excellent programmer.

    Mix of my favorite genre's - fantasy and computers. He brings up TLAs (three letter acronyms), R2D2, the power of caffiene, the dragon book (for compiler writers), a spell called "hello world," emacs, and a lot of other funny stuff I can't remember. And it all seems to fit (not just puns thrown in there for their own sake, like the often-criticized Xanth books).

    Now I REALLY want to go buy the next three. :)
  • did is strike anyone else as ironic that one of the mentioned websites,, which said it had more than 350 free books on it's site, is not accessable by public?
  • I found this awhile back by linking back from a Google search. I was pleasantly surprised to a) learn of its existence and b) find it being offered for free. For those of you into tales of hacking/cracking this is a good read that keeps me 'scared whitehat'. It's strange how much is out there out there in terms of free literature and documentation, but the only unified, exhaustive index is Google. :P

  • Free books are a good idea, but will face the same struggle as OSS, primarily because of the monopolies already existing. MS we all know about, but how many of you good people here tonight know the extent of the Bertelsmann firm's media dominance? It's the only Big Six corp not to have a key US TV outlet, and that (AFAIK) is because the US has laws to make sure all US TV is by American corporations, and Bertelsmann is German.

    To cut a long story short, the Big Corps will do anything and everything to wipe out "free books", or at the very least, prevent their gaining a significant market share. In terms of styles of books, the mass markets will be catered for, so free books will fill the unprofitable/undesirable topics that publishers will not touch. They will also be quite a few people releasing books for free as a statement, like the morons who struggle to use Linux just because its "cool", aparrently. Finally, the genuineley intelligent books whose authors really are in it for the spirit of it, the virtually unread minority, drowned under the crapflooders whose crap has no profit for the big publishing houses and no worth to the independent publishers.

    In short, this could, and hopefully will, be a force for good in the literature arena. Until the lawyers move in...


  • Hi,

    I have known authors of niche type books and have learned from them that they make exceptionally small amounts of money on the sale of these books. Specifically, I am talking about the PhD candidate who turns his thesis over to a publisher. Here's an example of this: The Rise of Neoconservatism: Intellectuals and Foreign Affairs, 1945-1994 []. This was a book written by my professor.

    Getting back to my point, though, I believe that he would probably make more money today posting that entire book on the web for free and putting up a paypal tip jar than he would by going through a publisher or attempting subsidy publishing.

    There are a lot of content sites out there using this method and, when you cut out the agent, the publisher, the printer, the retailer, and all the other middlemen, direct sales based on paypal type donations might be the way to go (please spare me on the evils of paypal, you know I mean the concept of micropayments.)

  • by jimfrost ( 58153 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:14PM (#4499583) Homepage
    I wonder if a lot of the problem with ebooks as a profit zone wasn't largely the result of the ebook initiative people of giving you basically two ebook alternatives:

    1. Go buy this $300+ ebook reader, plus pay them premium prices, in order to read them.

    2. Read them on your personal computer.

    I dunno about the rest of you, but I wasn't going to buy a rocketbook or any of the others so that I could pay a bunch of money to download books over a slow-as-molasses modem. Why the heck can't I download them over my broadband connection to my PC and maintain my own library? And I wasn't going to buy books that I could only read on my PC, which I don't happen to be sitting in front of at any time when I want to be reading books.

    I want to read books wherever I am, like you'd be able to do with a dedicated ebook reader, but I don't want to pay for or carry around a dedicated ebook reader.

    As it turns out, I've been carrying a portable computer since early 1997 - a palm. So why not use that? The screen is small, but I always have it with me, and its print is really not all that much smaller than a lot of paperbacks anyway.

    I thought that was a natural fit. I started reading ebooks on it in I think 1998, but certainly by the end of 1999. Back then there were only a few places you could get them, and peanutpress was the only place I could get contemporary stuff from well-known authors (plus the peanut reader did a very nice display job given the limitations of the device).

    Since that time the number of ebook vendors has exploded. I still can't get them from Barnes and Noble or Amazon in a palm reader format (isn't it interesting that both support Microsoft's format but neither supports the much more popular palm reader format) but there has been an explosion of free and commercial ebook services serving the palmtop market. My current favorite is fictionwise.

    Anyway, my point in all of this is that ebooks are selling commercially and have been selling for years. Not on high volumes, but I wonder if that's not because of the failure of the large booksellers to target the largest of the palmtop markets. The smaller vendors have existed for years and are obviously doing something right given that they're still around and their inventories are exploding, but they don't have the marketing push to really get ebooks out there.

    Whatever, ebooks really are here if you want them and most likely you don't have to buy anything extra to read them.

  • by EnlightenmentFan ( 617608 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:17PM (#4499606) Homepage Journal
    I love dead-tree books, but when you are looking for something--if you have even a vague idea what it is, you can't beat a computer.

    For example, I wanted to quote that great pseudo-riddle from Lewis Carroll -- "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" But which Alice book did it come from? In two minutes I found both text files at Gutenberg, searched for "raven", and there it was. (The Mad Hatter came up with it, in _Alice in Wonderland_. )

    The Internet is, IMO, the best free ebook--it sure is the biggest. Unlike dead tree books, you get a wide choice of search engines. Of course, you can pick up a lot of weird stuff there too. So, surf safely--I myself always wear a condom.

  • by dh003i ( 203189 ) <.dh003i. .at.> on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:43PM (#4499811) Homepage Journal
    Is that you're computer screen has very crappy resolution compared to the resolution on a piece of paper. When computer screen's are 300dpi like decent printers, then reading stuff on them will be much more fun.

    Until then, the thing to do is offer books in pdf and html format. PDF to print out. HTML to read on the computer, which will allow you to change font settings and sizes to your preference, making it easier to read.
  • by dh003i ( 203189 ) <.dh003i. .at.> on Monday October 21, 2002 @06:48PM (#4499852) Homepage Journal
    For a similar set of reasons as to why the public rejected the divx "loaning scheme" for movies, they'll reject e-books as they currently stand.

    People would always rather get something for free than have to pay for it; and they'd always rather have the rights laid out according to the FSF than not have those rights.

    But people will pay for books. We've been doing that forever, since the beginning of this nation. But when people pay for books, they expect certain rights; the right to read as often as they like, to loan, to mark-up, to give away, to take quotes from, to put in a library, etc. Until e-books give people all the same rights they have with regular paper-back books, they will not catch on.

    Asking people to buy e-books as they currently exist is like saying "why don't you pay me 30,000 dollars for the same Ford except that you can't loan it to anyone, modify it, etc etc". People aren't going to buy into this bullshit.

    What should happen is that when we buy a paper-back book, we should get access to an e-book automatically, and have the same rights to utilize the e-book as we would the paper-back book.

    The reason why free-books online are catching on is because they offer the consumers all the same rights they'd have with paper-back books.
    • But when people pay for books, they expect certain rights; the right to read as often as they like, to loan, to mark-up, to give away, to take quotes from, to put in a library, etc. Until e-books give people all the same rights they have with regular paper-back books, they will not catch on.

      Asking people to buy e-books as they currently exist is like saying "why don't you pay me 30,000 dollars for the same Ford except that you can't loan it to anyone, modify it, etc etc". People aren't going to buy into this bullshit.

      It's not so much that I can't lend them; the Palm Reader format that I most often get books in uses a credit card to unlock the book. I can give it away, but I have to either type in or give away the credit card with it. That immediately restricts the number of copies that will get made, and of course if the thing gets massively given away they can track it back to me. This is a pretty effective and simple means of DRM, and yet it does give me much of the flexibility of paper in terms of lending.

      I don't mind that at all.

      What I mind is when they charge me $20 for a contemporary novel, same price as the hardcover book, and all I'm getting is bits. That drives me nuts. I think if they're not going to have to pay to print and ship it, I ought to benefit from the distribution cost savings.

      There are some good arguments as to why that won't make them really cheap (much of the cost of producing most books is in the preprint production) but if you're offering in both formats there should be a discount for ebooks. On the other hand, I'm obviously an early adopter and there is infrastructure to pay for.

      I find that these days it's likely that a title bought in ebook format will indeed be a couple of bucks less money than a paper one, and shipping is free. Unfortunately availability of new titles is still very limited, although vastly better now than even one year ago.

      Ebooks are happening, even commercial ebooks, even though they are not yet mainstream. They still have their limitations relative to paper, but the convenience of the format (I regularly carry three or more in my PDA, whereas you'd be lucky to find me with even one paper book) is worth quite a bit. No more reading the National Enquirer in checkout lines.

  • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:37PM (#4500241)
    Raymond described a model of collaborative software development in which a large, geographically dispersed group of programmers worked together in a seemingly chaotic way. This bazaar model was to be contrasted with the cathedral model, in which everything is done according to a detailed, preexisting plan.


    The bazaar model seems to have been almost a complete failure in the world of free books, although not for want of trying. Tellingly, The Cathedral and the Bazaar was itself written cathedral-style by Raymond. He has also started a bazaar-style book project, The Art of Unix Programming[7], which appears to be languishing.


    The failure of the bazaar model with free books might not seem surprising

    This depends largely on where one draws the line between bizzar and cathedral, or put another way, with what granularity one considers a project or body of work. The Star Trek and Star Wars universes are examples where there is a large body of Cathedralesque work, as well as an even larger body of "fan fiction." While many stories (perhaps most) are themselves written by a single author (as, in fact, my own (soon-to-be released under a free license) novel [] has been), the overall, net effect of the body of work which comprises the fan fiction of the Star Trek and Star Wars universes (and undoubtably other settings as well) is in many ways more remeniscent of the Bizzar than a Cathedral approach. The Linux kernel is a bizzar-type project, yet within that kernel are modules and subsystems that are quite 'cathedralesque' in how they were managed and written.

    The definition in many ways becomeds one of granularity, and while I agree with much the article writes, I think the author overlooks the bizzar aspect of the cultural commons from which all authors draw inspiration. This is readilly seen in the collections of fan fiction which abound and, were it not for the often extremely repressive aspects of copyright in limiting how and when a person can incorporate another's work in their own project (no, I'm not advocating plagerism, I'm advocating broader definitions of fair use that including giving the original creator credit for their contribution, if not exclusive use).
  • by ChaoticCoyote ( 195677 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:42PM (#4500269) Homepage

    ...I've spent a lot of time thinking about these issues. I'll be releasing an e-book novel in the next few weeks, so I've had to think about how I want to publish and why.

    In recent years, I've fed my kids through the work I attract via my contributions to open source and the publication of free software on my web site. It is possible to make a living from free software.

    I hope to use a similar model for a fantasy novel I'm writing.

    The novel in question was first completed some years back, tentatively sold to a big name publisher, and then "lost" in a series of mergers. Quite discouraging. Writing is a damned tough business; I know, because I made a living for twelve years with magazine columns and programming books.

    I write fiction for two reasons -- because I enjoy it, and to entertain people. But getting into the fiction market (as in making money) is very, very hard. The publishing industry is terribly conservative and biased in the most incredible ways.

    Success as a writer -- especially as a fiction writer -- is elusive. Lost in a sea of lousy over-the-transom manuscripts, agents, and myopic publishers, how does an author stand out and make themselves known?

    Well, I'm told that John Grisham started his career by self-publishing his first books, and selling them from the trunk of his car at fairs and flea markets. Self-promotion is the root of all success...

    ....which leads back to free software. Giving away a program may induce someone to hire me to write code -- and giving away a book may draw attention to my work, thus attracting a real publisher who may pay me for other works.

    And perhaps people will pay me directly, if they believe my book worthy.

    So I'm publishing a book in a few weeks via my website, complete with full-color plates (artwork by my talented wife), and a story written exactly the way I want it, without the interference (or grammatical safety net!) of an editor. The complete book will be available under exactly the same terms as a paper book -- you can give it away, make copies for your friends, or print it out, all without paying me a dime.

    BUT, I'll also have a honor-based online payment system; for less than the cost of a typical paperback, people who enjoy the book can pay for it. They are not required to pay me -- it is a matter of honor and ethics.

    I don't expect most people to pay for what they download; if they simply enjoy the book, pass it on to friends, read it to their kids -- that will be victory (in a different sense.) What I'm giving people is an honest chance to compensate me, the author, for my work, if they deem it worthy.

    How many times have you bought a paperback, found it unreadable, and put it on the shelf unfinished or dissatisfied? How often does a pretty cover conceal a lousy book? It happens often enough for me, especially when buying a new science fiction or fantasy book. Wouldn't it be better if you could read the book first, and then only pay the authors whose work you considered worthy?

    Perhaps I'm too optimistic about people; if nothing else, this will be an interesting experiment in publishing and human relations.

  • Mailing list? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Monday October 21, 2002 @07:48PM (#4500310) Homepage Journal
    One of the things I have always appreciated about the Free Software community is the way help of all kinds is given (to those seen as deserving!) freely.

    My perception of the way books are normally written is very close to my perception of how proprietary software is developed. In secret, with help only from those with a financial interest in the book.

    I'm in the process of writing my first book, which I intend to distribute under the FDL.

    So, my actual question is, does anybody know of a mailing list or other "support group" for (aspiring) Free Book authors?

  • by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Monday October 21, 2002 @08:06PM (#4500423)
    Ya know, Microsoft's new ClearType font smoothing was largely created to make reading ebook content more pleasant, by supposedly giving a 2-3 times greater effective resolution for text rendering on LCD screens, making the experience of reading on an LCD closer to that of reading on paper.

    The problem is that though ClearType looks great subjectively it gives me a massive headache on my 17" ViewSonic VA800 LCD screen if I leave it on for a day or two of heavy computer use, even after I "tuned" it. I haven't set it up on a PDA and tried reading a Gutentext or other ebook because of that (well, and cuz I got rid of my PocketPC device and am back to a Clie for now... doh).

    Luckily there are still some immediate options if you are one of the many who *know* about Project Gutenberg etexts (for those of us whose taste in books, e- and otherwise is somewhat antiquated) but have never actually *read* one due to their well, umm, rather plain text look and feel. In particular GutenMark [] should do the trick. So download a couple of GutenTexts and GutenMark them into PDF/PS and you have something you might not exactly be able to curl up with, but at least it's readable.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.