Alchemical Thoughts

Thoughts on scoring free eBooks

Posted on: July 29, 2016

Wise Bread had one of those articles, listicle really, you have to take with a shaker full of salt. This time it’s “5 Easiest Ways to Score Free eBooks.” Yes, I know the economy is bad, and people need to save money, but I think folks who see this need to keep their expectations seriously low. The bottom line is that, unless somebody somewhere paid for it, you are not going to be reading authors like Grisham, Rowling, and Clancy in free ebooks. Here are some of the things to keep in mind the article does not really tell you or just conveniently forgets:

  • A red flag for me: “Throughout elementary school and college, I controlled the costs of books primarily by utilizing my public library. I haven’t stepped foot in a library in three years.  .  .” . Maybe she may want to consider stepping back into her local public library. Many public libraries today feature ebooks, often via Overdrive. Your library card entitles to access to your local library’s ebook collections, and those collections do feature various current and older but interesting books.
  • The whole Kindle family library and borrowing ebooks from family and friends. This may be free for you, but you are basically mooching off someone else who is paying for their ebooks. Now, I am not against borrowing per se, but let’s not fool ourselves and say this is free. You may not have paid for it, but someone else did, and I honestly have to wonder if telling people to mooch off someone else’s ebook subscription is really the best advice. You are basically telling people to let some other sucker pay for the ebooks you want to read. When it comes to the ethics, well, your mileage may vary.
  • I loved the euphemism of “non-professional stories online.” This is basically amateur writing you find in places ranging from Amazon to other websites where writers of various levels of skill self-publish. Now before you get your hopes up, for everyone one self-published author who might get plucked out of obscurity and become famous, like the guy who wrote The Martian, you are going to find tons and tons of seriously bad dreck that is self-published. This includes fan fiction by the way. So if you feel like taking your chances, and you really, really need to feed your reading addiction, go right ahead. Just don’t go expecting to find the next J.K. Rowling or Stephen King in those places. The author of the article does admit that “you can expect to find some sub-par writing due in part, to the fact that individuals of various skill levels publish on these types of sites.” That is a polite way of putting it. Believe me, as part of my reading I do for reviews, I have come across my share of these “non-professional stories” where I honestly hope those writers did keep their day jobs.
  • Public domain books. There are various places to find these, but keep in mind, these are mostly what people call classics. If you want to save on reading old books, the kind you may have had to read forcibly in school, then the various depositories featuring public domain books are for you. The other thing you find in the public domain sites are forgotten books. A few may be gems waiting to be rediscovered. A lot are forgotten for a reason, and they likely should stay forgotten. Having said that, you can find some curious items if you have the patience to look (or you have some good sources on your RSS reader to alert you of such things) such as my recent find of Pagan Passions.  (I will have a brief comment on that book in a future post). Looking through sources of Public Domain books is a lot like panning for gold, except you may often find more duds than nuggets, but well worth it when you do find that one gold nugget. If you are interested, the author of the article does provide a nice link to a list of Public Domain sources for books.

At the end of the day,articles like this come and go every so often, and there are quite a few out there such as here and here, and heck, even some public libraries are getting in on informing patrons about these options, like this one here. As a librarian, I tend to be happy to promote free books but skeptical when they make it sound like you can read anything you want that you might find in your local bookstore. That is not even close, and I wish that reality was made more apparent.

The bottom line is that tips like these are good for you if the following is true for you:

  • You are a very avid reader who is not too fussy about what you read.
  • You are a reader willing to take a lot of chances on what you may find to read.
  • You understand that you are not going to get the latest bestsellers or other very popular books for free unless someone else has paid for them. So if you do as the article states, you will (politely I hope) be mooching someone else’s accounts where they did pay for their ebooks.
  • You have to be willing to put in some work. Whether it be finding someone to give you access to their collections that they paid for or search through Public Domain sites to find something, you have to put in some effort finding and then selecting what you want to read.
  • You have to be willing to lower your standards a bit. Sure, as I said, you may find a gem here or there, but you may end up reading a lot of dreck too. How much dreck are you willing to go through in the interest of finding the one gem? That is a question you are thrifty reader have to answer, or as they say, your mileage may vary.

By the way, don’t be like the author. Go visit your public library once in a while. I may have a small bias given I am a librarian. However, I work for an academic library, and even I visit my local public library once in a while to get my fix of more pop-type of books. Plus my public library also has DVDs, so you do get some pretty good free (as in your tax dollars help pay for it) entertainment options. In addition, if you want e-books, as I mentioned, your local public library likely has its own e-book collection, and the selection will likely be better and better curated than a lot of the stuff you will find out there on the internet. This is especially true when it comes to those “non professional stories.” In the end, I am not saying to avoid reading free ebooks online if you can find them. I am saying to adjust your expectations of what you may find accordingly. Oh, and visit your public library once in a while. Your local friendly librarians will be glad to see you.

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