Focus on Free #1: Baen Free Library

This is the first in a series looking at specific providers of free books. 

Commonly, when I talk about sites for free books, some people sneer and say, “That’s just old stuff.”

Well, first, I like “old stuff”.  My favorite books tend to be the older ones.  A lot of those have fallen into the public domain, so anybody can publish them.  Those sites tend to have the same books…primarily because they were digitized initially by Project Gutenberg, and then (legally) used on other sites…sometimes with enhancements to them.

However, authors and publishers can choose to make books available for free.  That’s not the same as giving up your copyright, by the way.   Just because you get a book for free doesn’t mean that it is legal for you to make copies of it and send it to other people.  Oh, you can probably direct people to the same source so they can get it for free, but that’s legally different.

A lot of authors who make their books available are not well-known.  It may be more important for them to get the books out there, either for the publicity, or because they think the statements in there are important, than for them to make money.  It can be like being an undiscovered band and putting a video on YouTube.  You don’t get any money for the YouTube showing, but maybe a label will sign you and you’ll be making a million dollars a show and playing at the Superbowl halftime.  Um, yeah…maybe.  🙂

Before YouTube, we had street performers…what are called buskers.   Famous people have busked: Robin Williams, Joan Baez, Edith Piaf…reportedly, they started as street performers.  Do you make a lot of money busking?  Probably not, but it might not be as bad as you think.  I was working in downtown San Francisco, and there were these cute kids who were doing a dance act.  We would see them, and people throwing money into the hat.   Didn’t think that much about it…then, in the news, we heard they were making three hundred dollars a day (between the three of them).  That’s may not sound like all that much, I suppose…but it would be over thirty thousand dollars a year for each of them.  🙂

The Baen Free Library  doesn’t fit any of those categories.

These are not public domain books, or books by struggling authors.

Authors include Larry Niven, Fred Saberhagen, Harry Turtledove, and David Weber.  If you don’t know these names, you probably aren’t a science fiction/fantasy fan.   Saberhagen, for example, has current books that sell quite well in paper at Amazon.

So, why do they give their books away for free if people would buy them otherwise?

Eric Flint has a wonderful essay at the site that explains what happened.  He came up with what I’m going to call The Flint Principle.  His idea was that giving books away can actually help sell the books.  He has quite an interesting perspective on internet piracy.  He thinks piracy may also help sales…just like having your book in the library can help sales.

I’m against piracy, as you probably know.  I won’t knowingly help you find pirated books. 

However, the idea is that somebody getting a free book may recommend it to someone else, who does buy it.  They may choose to buy it themselves…to support the author, for one thing.  They may buy other books in the series…give ’em the first one free, right?

I think more people tend to be honest than dishonest.  Give people a choice between an illegal copy and a legal copy, and all things being equal, I think most people will choose the legal copy.  I think that tends to be true even if they have to pay (a reasonable amount) for the legal copy and they can get the illegal copy for free. 

So, certain authors agree to make certain titles available for free through Baen.  It’s about fifty authors right now, and I probably have paperbooks in my library from most of them.

Each author may have a couple of books…there are about twice as many books as authors, roughly.

Can you get these for the Kindle?  Sure!

It’s a common misconception that the Kindle is less open than the nook (sic) or the Sony.  Those other two EBRs (E-Book Readers) do EPUB and PDFs with DRM (Digital Rights Management), and the Kindle doesn’t do that.  But, it does do MOBI files without DRM, and several sites have that option. 

When you click on a book, you’ll have an option to download it several formats.  One of those says Mobi/Palm/Kindle…that’s the one you want for your Kindle.  They also commonly have EPUB.   You can even get them in Rich Text Format and read them on your computer.  If you prefer, you can read it online without downloading.

You can download it for your Kindle and transfer it to your Kindle’s documents folder using your USB cord…that’s free.  For details on that, see this previous post.

Another nice touch is that you can have the book e-mailed to your Kindle wirelessly, although Amazon does charge you for that.  For US customers in the US, it’s fifteen cents a megabyte, rounded up.

UPDATE: With the advent of the Kindle 3, you can have them delivered wirelessly to your Kindle…for free!  Send it to your free address, as I mentioned above…like you were doing it for USB transfer.  When your Kindle is on wi-fi, the books will deliver wirelessly to the Kindle…and Amazon won’t charge you for it. 

You have to set that up one time, and then you can do it whenever you want from the Baen site.

To set it up, you go to the Manage Your Kindle page at Amazon.  Under Your Kindle Approved E-mail List, you’re going to add an address for  After that, you’ll choose to which Kindle you want to send a specific book by putting in the Kindle’s e-mail address.

NOTE: if your friends/family/coworkers have authorized the webscription address, you can use this to send books to their Kindles as well.

Thank you Eric Flint, and Baen, for making free, high quality, well-known books available to readers.  This is the sort of forward-looking thinking that other publishers should adopt.

If you choose to donate to the Baen Public Library, you are able to do that at their site.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

2 Responses to “Focus on Free #1: Baen Free Library”

  1. Amanda Says:

    Baen also offers free e-books via CDs bound into some of their hard cover books. These CDs are mirrored at These CDs are free and may be freely copied and distributed. The only caveats are that full credit to Baen must be given and the CDs may not be sold. It is yet another example of Baen’s belief that free can and does turn into sales.

    There are currently 19 or so CDs available for download. They include many books that are not in the Free Library, including most of Baen’s books by David Weber, John Ringo and Eric Flint. And, as with the Free Library, the books are available for download DRM-free and in multiple formats, making them easily available for the Kindle.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks, Amanda!

      I did check with Baen before posting your comment. I wanted to make sure that they were okay with that site, and they indicated it was okay with them to post it.

      Thanks for the tip!

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