The Ereading Blog

Unglue.it Strives to Expand Free Ebooks

LOGO-UnglueITAn organization called Unglue.it is working hard to make free books more easily available.  This is a noble and worthwhile mission, up to a certain point.  I find myself disagreeing with their assertion that some books must be free to continue providing value.

In one example they use, Ruth Finnegan's Oral Literature in Africa, they state that for the book to "…continue to stimulate original research and new insights…" it must be free.  That's an odd perspective, especially for a book that was published in 1970 and one they acknowledge is a classic in its field.   Their implication seems to be that because the book is currently out-of-print, taking the effort to turn it into an ebook must by extension make it free forever.

This seems remarkably short-sighted to me.

I think that as ebooks continue to grow (albeit slowly) over the next twenty years or so, technology will evolve to accommodate them.  Devices to read digital works will become considerably cheaper even as distribution methods scale to be more economical, efficient, and fast.  In future years, I believe out-of-print physical book titles like Ms. Finnegan's Oral Literature in Africa will become widely available.  Converting such books for sale as ebooks will benefit future scholars and readers, but it will also provide income for authors or their estates.  I see nothing wrong with this.

For now, copyright law is what it is.  In this example, it certainly should protect a book that was published in 1970.  To say that the book must be free, simply because it is out-of-print, seems more than a little self-serving. There are many millions of books in the world that are out-of-print.  Yet they are still protected by copyright.  Somehow, I doubt many of those authors would agree that their books "must" be free in order to continue to influence future generations.

For other books that are already out of copyright, but not yet in ebook form, have at it.  Convert them all.  But understand that as noble as that mission is, booksellers have to pay for traffic, hardware maintenance, and numerous other costs inherent in getting ebooks to customers.  Like it or not, even nobility sometimes costs more than it should.  That doesn't make distributors or retailers greedy, just pragmatic.