Archive for the ‘Focus on Free’ Category

Focus on free #4: ManyBooks

March 15, 2010

Focus on free #4: ManyBooks

This is the fourth in a series of posts that highlight a place to get free e-books.  You can find articles in that series here.


Mobile friendly site (directly from your Kindle)

ManyBooks is one of the most popular of the free book sites amongst Kindleers.  The navigation is straightforward, and there is that social element (books are reviewed and “bookshelves” can be made public).

While many of the books from Project Gutenberg, there are books from other sources (including some new books which the rightsholders choose to distribute for free).

They claim to have 26,474 ebooks.  You could read a free book every day for about 72 years.  🙂

One of the unusual features (and something you don’t have at PG), is the ability to simply flip through pages of (usually) color covers.  That kind of gives you that feel of being in a bookstore…remember those?  🙂  Hey, you could even be drinking coffee and sitting in a comfy chair…it is like a bookstore!  😉

The genre listing is extensive (including more offbeat things like “banned books”, “pulp”, “Canadian literature”, and “post 1930”), and again, in a nice touch, they let you browse by Library of Congress categories.  The pulp category got me 339 results…nice! 

The advanced search lets you do a good job of narrowing.  Hey, I like having the choice of languages from Afrikaans to Welsh…and there were 59 books just under Esperanto!

They have a ton of formats, including AZW (for the Kindle specifically), mobi, EPUB, PDF…even rb for those old Rocketbooks.  It will remember the choice that you made for format the next time you go to download…which makes it easier to grab several in one session.   Interestingly, though, when I chose Kindle, it didn’t work…it seemed to want my device key.  I could download mobi and use it fine, though.

They give you several special ways to look:

New Additions
Popular Titles
Recent Downloads
Special Collections
User’s Public Bookshelves
A List of eBooks in Series
Reader Recommendations
Random book
Cover Image Gallery

I find that list of ebooks in series particularly good, and unusual for most sites.  It’s not just books that say they are in a series…for example, they list Allan Quartermain as a series.  That’s reasonable to say, certainly, and it helps you find the books that feature that character…even though they weren’t released with numbers on the covers.   🙂

They give you nine issues of Astounding (an old science fiction magazine). 

They also do a great job of letting you go from one book to another.  When you go to a given book’s page, there are links to the author, the genres, the Library of Congress category…even to the original site.

On that product page, you can also see an excerpt, and read reviews (if any).

Let’s dig a little deeper into one of the Special Collections.  This is something that sets the site apart from others.  On this page:


you get several subcategories, and within the categories, you get recommended titles.  The categories include:

  • Romance
  • Adventure
  • Mystery
  • Western
  • Horror
  • Fantastic
  • Drama

I have to say, though, I’m not sure I concur with all the categorizations.  My Man Jeeves is under Drama…okay, so they don’t have a humor category, so I guess it does go there.  It’s also certainly an incomplete list.  For example, they don’t list Zorro…I guess Antonio Banderas might be disappointed.  😉

Back to the book listing, you also get a word count and a page count.  That page count would let you calculate where you should be in the book if you were in a book club or given an assignment in class. 

I tried registering for the site, and found it a little awkward.  I appeared to be able to log in with the default password they gave me, but when I tried to change it, it kept telling me I wasn’t logged in. 

Then, however, it did work later from the main screen…it may have been working fine, but just had confusing messages. 

You do not need an account to get the books, but if you have one, you can then create “bookshelves” and write reviews.  It also interacts with Library Thing.

The site has links for a number of conversion programs (from one format to another), although I’d say they could be more descriptive.  For Calibre, which can do a number of conversions, it just says “for ePUB format”. 

As to a little local flavor, they give you some statistics on books downloaded.  Apparently, though, they haven’t done one for 2009.  In 2008, the most popular title was The Art of War by Sun Tzu, with over 34,000 downloads.  There were about 4.5 million downloads in total in 2008.  That compares to 3.8 million in 2007…which shows a considerable jump.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a file for 2006, which would be the year before the Kindle was released.  Looking at 2005, though, there were only 1.8 million titles downloaded…that’s a big increase!  My intuition would be that the Kindle was a big part of that…I see ManyBooks mentioned many times in the forums.  The Art of War is still one of the most popular books this week…it might be old, but it doesn’t get old.  🙂  Even when I managed a brick and mortar bookstore, that was a popular seller…mostly to businesspeople. 

Oh, and you can filter the search.  In case you were wondering, the most popular book in Esperanto this week has had five downloads.  😉

The most popular science fiction book is The Planet Savers, by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

That brings up another important point.  The Planet Savers was released in 1958.  While it may be in the public domain in the US (due to a failure to renew or an improperly displayed copyright notice), it may not be in other countries.  Unlike some sites, ManyBooks doesn’t make a point of letting your know that the book may not be in the public domain in your country.

Overall, Matthew McClintock, who maintains the site as a public service, has done a nice job in making these books available in a variety of formats, and makes finding them on the site easy.  The site assumes a certain level of technical expertise…you can find some step by steps, but it takes a little digging (and points you to other sources).

If you are comfortable transferring files, you’ll find ManyBooks to be a good place to find e-books, regardless of your device.

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

Focus on free #3: Internet Sacred Text Archive

February 21, 2010

Focus on #3: Internet Sacred Text Archive

This is the third in a series of posts that highlight a place to get free e-books.  You can find articles in that series here.

There are all kinds of specialty bookstores: mystery, science fiction, cookbooks, and so on.  The odds are pretty good that a large city will have at least one “occult” or “paranormal” bookstore.  Bible stores are also common.

The internet has a site like that for free e-books.  It’s called the Internet Sacred Text Archive.

It’s been online for over ten years.

Now, before you surf off to find another romance of teen vampire novel, let me point out that this site may be more diverse than you expect.

Sure, you can get the Bible here.  Yes, you can get the Bhagavad Gita (in English or Sanskrit).

As is pointed out in the intentionally amusing FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions),

“Not everything at this site is a sacred text in the strict sense.”

Um, yes.   For example, they have books on UFOs, the Iliad…even fiction, including the works of Lord Dunsany.  Some people may treat The Lord of the Rings like it’s a religion, and there is even a category for Tolkien.

That brings up an important point, though.  Almost everything here is in the public domain…Lord of the Rings is not.   They are clear about that…you won’t get something (probably) thinking it is something else.  The Tolkien section contains works that probably influenced Tolkien.

Here is their set of topics:

  • African
  • Age of Reason
  • Alchemy
  • Americana
  • Ancient Near East
  • Astrology
  • Asia
  • Atlantis
  • Australia
  • Basque
  • Baha’i
  • Bible
  • Book of Shadows
  • Buddhism
  • Celtic
  • Christianity
  • Classics
  • Comparative
  • Confucianism
  • DNA
  • Earth Mysteries
  • Egyptian
  • England
  • Esoteric/Occult
  • Evil
  • Fortean
  • Freemasonry
  • Gothic
  • Gnosticism
  • Grimoires
  • Hinduism
  • I Ching
  • Islam
  • Icelandic
  • Jainism
  • Journals
  • Judaism
  • Legends/Sagas
  • Legendary Creatures
  • LGBT
  • Miscellaneous
  • Mormonism
  • Mysticism
  • Native American
  • Necronomicon
  • New Thought
  • Neopaganism/Wicca
  • Nostradamus
  • Oahspe
  • Pacific
  • Paleolithic
  • Parapsychology
  • Philosophy
  • Piri Re’is Map
  • Prophecy
  • Roma
  • Sacred Books of the East
  • Sacred Sexuality
  • Shakespeare
  • Shamanism
  • Shinto
  • Symbolism
  • Sikhism
  • Sub Rosa
  • Swedenborg
  • Tantra
  • Taoism
  • Tarot
  • Thelema
  • Theosophy
  • Time
  • Tolkien
  • UFOs
  • Utopia
  • Women
  • Wisdom of the East
  • Zoroastrianism

Looking at that list, don’t you love that there is a “Miscellaneous” category?  😉

There are a lot of interesting titles…some may be familiar to you, many won’t.  From Shakespeare, to J.B. Rhine, to Madame Blavatsky, to UFO classics by Edward Ruppelt and Donald Keyhoe, this practically defines eclectic. 

In a traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore, some of these would be in Religion, some would be in Occult (or New Age), some would be in Philosophy, some would be in Fiction.

Here’s a key thing.

A lot of people sort of assume that all of the free e-books on the web were taken from Project Gutenberg.  Certainly, that site is the source of a lot of material…they’ve been digitizing e-books for a long time.  Since the books are in the public domain (generally, no longer under copyright protection), that’s legal to do.  It’s also sort of the point of Project Gutenberg…to make information available.

ISTA has a lot of books that aren’t at PG.  J.B. (John Bruno) Hare, who runs the site, can be credited for a lot of the work of digitizing the books, although the site nicely lists several volunteers who have contributed time and effort to making these texts available.

Some come from other internet sources as well, but if you are looking for something different, this site is a good bet.

Kindle friendliness

Unfortunately, this is not the most Kindle friendly site, although it can certainly be used effectively with your Kindle (I have).

Some of the books are available in the Kindle store, and there will be links to those.  When you get the books that way, though, they won’t be free…publishers using the Digital Text Platform (DTP) aren’t allowed to make them free.

You typically have a few choices. 

You can read the book online.  That’s nice at lunch at work, but it’s never really caught on.  When you don’t download a file, you don’t have that much control over it.  For technical reasons, they also break the online experience into separate pages for separate chapters.   That means you can’t search a book that easily (although the site does have a search).  If you know what you want, you can search through all the texts, and it’s quite quick. Limiting it to one book is harder.

More people may read books online with the advent of the iPad.  At least, that will make it simpler to carry around a fairly large web portal.

Another option is to download the book.  What you typically will download is a text file (no pictures, which you will have online).  Once you download the text, you can put it into your Kindle’s documents folder (see this earlier post).  However, and this is important, you will be downloading a zipped file, and you’ll need to unzip it first.  Many of you know about Winzip, but they use a different program called Gzip.  You can get a free unzipper here: 7-Zip at CNET.

A “zipped” file is one that has been compressed by removing things to make it smaller so you can download, share, and store it more easily.  While in the zipped form, it can’t be read easily by a human being.  The unzipper restores it its original format so a person can read it.  It’s sort of like condensed milk…just add water (but don’t actually use water). 😉

Once you unzip it, it will be a text file, which you can read on many EBRs, including the Kindle, nook (sic), and Sony.

The other big option is to buy a CD or DVD from the site, and then transfer those files.  That helps support the site, and makes things much easier.


Overall, this is a good site, with a sense of humor and of the public good (both things of which I approve).  It’s nice to have books which aren’t available everywhere else.  It could be a bit technically easier to use, but isn’t beyond a somewhat sophisticated computer user.  The adventurous reader can find some real hidden treasures here.

I’m going to leave the last word to the the last line of the well-written FAQ:

Q: What about the quiz?
A: There is no quiz. Nor is there any cake.

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

Focus on Free #2: FeedBooks

February 12, 2010

Focus on Free #2: FeedBooks

This is the second in a series of posts that highlight a place to get free e-books.  You can find articles in that series here.

I know about a lot of places to get free books…hey, I wrote a book on it, right? 🙂

Well, I go to different ones for different purposes, but my first choice is usually FeedBooks.  (If you are reading this on a Kindle and want to take a look at it, use this mobile version.)

Why do I use FeedBooks?

I like the selection of books.  The books tend to be well-formatted for my Kindle.  Another key thing for me is that the performance of the website tends to be pretty good.  It’s reasonably easy to navigate (although the search could be more intuitive, in my opinion).  It also has good support for the Kindle.


FeedBooks has both public domain books (those that have fallen out of copyright, generally) and original works by authors who choose to distribute their books for free.

There are more than 1200 books in just the novel category, just in the public domain.  There appeared to be close to one thousand original books.

Categories for Public Domain include:

Adventure, Biography, Collections, Crime/Mystery, Essay, Fantasy, Ghost Stories, Gothic, History, Horror, Humor/Satire, Nonfiction, Novels, Philosophy, Plays, Poetry, Politics, Psychology, Religion, Romance, Science, Science Fiction, Sexualtiy, Short Fiction, Thriller, Travel, War, Western, Young Readers.

When you click on a category, you can sort by Most Popular, New Releases, Most Favorites (more on that below), A-Z, or Z-A.  You can also limit by range for the sorts.  You can limit by language as well, English, French, German, and Spanish…although not all categories have all of those four languages, and other languages are represented.

You’ll find a lot of great books here!


The books tend to be well-formatted: I haven’t noticed a lot of proof-reading errors, and they do tend to have active tables of contents.

On the site, you usually see a color cover.  That’s useful if you read them on Kindle for PC (more on that later).


There is a simple searchbox at the top of the screen, but it does tend to work well. 

Kindle friendliness

They’ve really set up a nice feature for Kindle users.  As you know, slogging the web on the Kindle can be tough.  Trying to search through several webpages can take some time.

What they’ve done is create a 

Kindle Download Guide 

They give you  instructions on this, but basically what you do is download a catalogue, then put it on your Kindle.  You can then search that catalogue on the Kindle itself, find a book you want, click on it and download.   I’ve found that works fine.  You can also search at the mobile site.

I also love how it works with the free Kindle for PC app.  It’s a very easy way to get that free book into your Kindle for PC.  It doesn’t help you  get it on your Kindle that way, but for those of you reading on PCs, it’s fine.

Other EBRs and mobile devices

This is not just a Kindle site.  You can download for the Sony Readers, iRex, iPhones…even Android!

You can download books in Mobi (best for the Kindle), EPUB, and PDFs.   You can even customize the PDFs!  That’s big…you can choose your font size, for example.

You can read the PDFs on your computer (assuming you have the free Adobe reader), however, I have found that it only works for me if I save it to the computer first and then open it from there.  When I try to open them directly from the site, it hasnn’t worked for me.

Personalization/social features

You can register for free.  That keeps track for you of your downloads, but also lets you make comments, mark books as favorites, and create lists that other people can read.  You can comment on the lists as well.

For example, here is a list for Great Books of the Western World:

and here is one for Utopia/Dystopia

Other features

They make an Application Programming Interface (API) available, which means that it can be made to work with a variety of software and websites.  Among the well-known ones are Stanza and GoodReads.

They have a blog and are on Facebook and Twitter. 

If you want to self-publish (and distribute for free), this is a good site for it.  You can upload once, and they automatically make the book available in MOBI, EPUB, and PDF.  I’ve never published here, but they do have some interesting features and it looks pretty easy.  They’ve even got some kind of magic footnote button. 


The website was founded in June of 2007, and is a French site (although you won’t notice that as you use it).   The operators of the website created their own software to create e-books “on the fly”.

It was founded by Hadrien Gardeur and Loïc Roussell.


As I mentioned, this is the first site I use when looking for free books.  It’s easy to use and the books look good…that’s what you want.  The download guide makes it especially easy to use…easier than shopping in the Kindle store.

If a book is on Amazon and on FeedBooks, it tends to be better formatted on FeedBooks.  One negative is that your notes are not backed up for you by Amazon when you get a book from somewhere other than the Kindle store (like FeedBooks).  If I know I’m going to want to pull quotations from a book, that’s an argument for me using Amazon…however, that’s not always worth putting up with Amazon’s formatting on the public domain books.  One other funny thing; the text-to-speech works much better for me with FeedBooks editions than with Amazon’s own editions.  The Amazon ones tend to end up with Tom reading punctuation aloud, which doesn’t happen as often with FeedBooks.

Important note: the books from FeedBooks may not be in the public domain in your jurisdiction.   If you are in the US, and the book was first published before 1923, you should be okay.

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

Focus on Free #1: Baen Free Library

January 14, 2010

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.

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