I wrote a long time ago about the changes in the publishing industry around how physical books would become luxury items of desire.

While out in Cheltenham, UK, today, as well as a book shop full of board games and pretty stationary, I saw this display which I took a photo of to share.

Sets of popular out of copyright novels, bound in hardback in beautiful designs. They look absolutely fabulous. But they are objects of desire – coffee table books if you will – and priced accordingly, I saw £15 or more price tags.

If you really want to read some of these works – they are out of copyright, which means public domain, which means this content is free (when you buy them in physical printed form you are only paying for the cost of making, shipping and storing the physical media, the publisher has no obligation to pay any money to the author, their heirs or estate, so the rest is pure profit for the publishing house) – then Project Gutenberg is the place to read them. In digital format for free.

If you prefer a physical book, there are cheaper options. Back when I was a student in the early 1990s I would purchase classics in paperback editions from Wordsworth for £1. They are still publishing and a quarter of a century later only £2.50, which is much more reasonable than the beautiful hardbacks I saw on display today.

Or you can scour what we call charity shops in the UK and from memory what are thrift stores in the USA. These often carry books at significant reductions on retail. Or eBay.

  • For the record I am not being paid to endorse anyone here, I would recommend Gutenberg which is free, but I would also suggest if you must have a physical book when you buy out of copyright, go with the cheapest option, whether that is second-hand or a reasonably priced publisher.
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