Free eBooks and Audio Books on the Web

Free eBooks and Audio Books on the Web

Posted on Thursday March 22, 2007 at 11:36AM

You read that correctly. This entry is all about how to get eBooks and audio books for free, legally of course, on the web. After a brief explanation of current copyright law in Canada I will highlight here two very exciting web resources: Project Gutenberg and LibriVox.

There are all sorts of ways to download books, movies, music and other media for free from the Internet and many of them are not legal - but there are many legal ways to do so as well.

Two very powerful and joyous words you’ll want to remember: Public Domain.

By default, works produced by a human being are automatically under copyright in Canada. That copyright remains in force for a minimum of 50 years after the death of the author of the work. However, once that period is over the work enters the public domain and is free to be used in anyway by the public. For a brief explanation of copyright law in Canada see the website of Bowely Kerr Nadeau, a Canadian lawyer based in Ottawa.

Many people creating artistic works nowadays are waving their copyright and releasing the material into the public domain. You can do this to. However, most people ask that you respect the intellectual integrity of their work. Besides having fiscal rights to a work, authors also retain intellectual rights to their work. In other words, if you use someone’s work cite that author. For a good primer in how to release your work to the public domain or the nature of the public domain see the creative commons website.

Finally, a word or two about Project Gutenberg.

The mission of this project is to “encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks.” The project has been underway since the 1970’s but exploded with the advent of the world wide web, naturally. Currently, there are some 20,000 volumes in the project. These are public domain works that have been digitized by a troop of faithful volunteers. You can volunteer too. For a short or long synopsis of Project Gutenberg see the sites about pages.

Highlights of the project:

  • 20,000 free eBooks (copy and distribute at will)
  • 182 human read audio books
  • 367 computer generated audio books
  • 41 languages with up to 50 books in their catalogue (Russian)
  • 10 languages with over 50 books in their collection
  • Substantial English and French collection
  • Books come in a variety of formats including HTML, Plucker (for palm pilots), PDF etc.

A biased list of 10 great books from their top 100 downloaded books:

  1. Manners, Custom and Dress During the Middle Ages and During the Renaissance Period by Paul Lacroix (361)
  2. The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci — Complete by Leonardo da Vinci (270)
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (226)
  4. Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm (173)
  5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (138)
  6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (115)
  7. Aesop’s Fables - Volume I by Aesop (101)
  8. Across China on Foot by Edwin John Dingle (86)
  9. Dracula by Bram Stoker (81)
  10. Forbidden books of the original New Testament by William Wake (93)

I hope that brief list gives you some idea of the types of books you’ll find in Project Gutenberg.

On to LibriVox and their efforts at “acoustical liberation of books in the public domain.”

This completely volunteer organization works diligently to bring you free audio books. You can download the books at will - even cut excerpts out of them and remix the words into a disco song… or not. From the horses mouth so to speak - this is what LibriVox is:

LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books. We are a totally volunteer, open source, free content, public domain project.

You can listen to samples of the volunteer reading done for LibriVox if you are still not convinced this service rocks.

Highlights of the LibriVox Collection:

  • 495 completed works
  • 49 non-English works
  • 832 works in production
  • 216 solo productions (one volunteer reader read and recorded the whole book)
  • Over 1000 volunteer readers
  • 472 projects awaiting validation so they can be downloaded

Another biased list of great books available through LibriVox:

  1. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Verne, Jules
  2. Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The by Baum, L. Frank
  3. Wilde, Oscar. “Importance of Being Earnest, The”
  4. Burroughs, Edgar Rice. “Gods of Mars, The”
  5. Austen, Jane. “Emma”
  6. Swift, Jonathan. “Modest Proposal, A”
  7. Defoe, Daniel. “Robinson Crusoe”
  8. Wells, H. G.. “War of the Worlds, The”
  9. Carroll, Lewis. “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
  10. Crane, Stephen. “Red Badge of Courage, The”

I hope that list give you a sense of the types of works in being produced by LibriVox. To get a complete list of all the titles in LibriVox’s database enter nothing in their catalog fields and click search.

The files are in .mp3 format so in order to rip them to a CD that will play in a regular CD player you’ll need to change the format -you can contact me for help with that. Otherwise, MP3s are great for digital players and your computer.

Awesome Library application:

Download and burn select copies for a circulating collection. This could be a great way to build your audio book collection. Just remember that the content may be free but the time and materials to produce the CDs is not.

Materials needed:

  • Cd’s (about .50 cents each) the average audio book will take 6 to 10 CDs
  • Labels - you don’t want to add CDs to your collection with felt pen labels
  • Cases - 2-4$ depending on the case - you’ll want to make a nice label for the case too.
  • Time - your time is valuable. Once you get good at copying and producing the average audio book will take you a couple hours to produce. Of course, you can multi-task. There is a lot of time waiting around for files to download and CDs to burn.
  • This may be a good summer student or volunteer activity!

I produced an example audio book (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ - Gods of Mars). It looks really professional and sounds fairly good too. Ask me to bring it along to show you next time I visit your library.


I know there are other resources out there for free public domain content. Please, if you know of one, please, mention it in the comments. Any great library uses for these would be appreciated in the comments too.

Author: Northern Lights Library System

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