Free Books on the Internet: HarperCollins, Oprah, and Yale Join the Fray

Given our fondness for all things publishing here at Freakonomics, we’ve been following the development of e-books with particular interest. In the past few weeks, it appears that the free e-book movement has officially begun. Last week, publishing monolith HarperCollins (the publisher of Freakonomics) announced that it would offer free electronic editions of a group of its books on the company’s Web site. This week, Suze Orman‘s Women & Money made headlines when more than 1 million copies were downloaded after Oprah Winfrey announced the book’s Internet availability on her show.

Now, author and George Washington University associate law professor Dan Solove informs us that Yale University Press has allowed him to put the full text of his new book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, in free downloadable format on the book’s Web site. The publisher has also started releasing other their titles, such as Yochai Benkler‘s The Wealth of Networks, in full on the Internet.

It remains to be seen whether availability online will translate to higher sales for these books, though 1 million downloads in one day certainly bodes well for both Orman’s sales figures and e-books’ overall popularity. Whether this movement will lead to the rise of the Kindle remains to be seen.

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  1. Manini says:

    From what I read on some blog, the Oprah free download was suspended after that many people got it for free. Perhaps it was a mistake and was never meant to be given away to so many people? Suze is not such a great personal finance guru anyway.

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  2. Mark says:

    You missed a major publishing that has starting making some free e-books available: Tor

    If you go to and put in your email address, they will send you a free ebook a week until their new site launches. No DRM, no strings attached – just sign up for their email newsletter, get a new free ebook each week.

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  3. Anne says:

    @Manini – I’d be surprised if that were the case. The Web site for the Oprah download clearly indicated that it was a free download and that the offer would expire at a definite time (I believe it was February 15 at 7:00 central).

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  4. dersk says:

    Don’t forget Baen! Lots of free science fiction at

    I particularly recommend _1632_ and others in that series: alternate history in which modern West Virginia is transplanted to Germany during the Thirty Years War. Fun stuff, even if it does sound kinda silly when you describe it.

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  5. Bruce says:

    You can get a lot of books on the Austrian school of economics from

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  6. Abdul-Aziz Muhammad-Shaw says:

    I doubt that online books will increase the sales of book because like the book on Oprah’s website, it was free. Also it will turn out like music, people will find a way to illegaly download the book.

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  7. Alex W says:

    Imagine if books went the route of music and charged something like 1 or 2 dollars per download. Hardly a cumbersome fee when you consider most books will be over 10$ in a brick and mortar. Now, if a free ebook can sell 1 million copies in 1 day after some publicity on Oprah, imagine how many copies a trivially priced edition could sell over the span of several months. Certainly a few million, I’d expect.

    Money is saved on raw materials, processing, printing, distribution. The only costs would be for the content and the server to house the content and some for publicity. So, say the split goes something like 70/30 for author/distributor. That’s still a great deal of income with extremely low overhead.

    I know I’d be very likely to purchase a book for 1 or 2 dollars if it meant I could be reading it in a matter of minutes. Often I find myself not reading books because I don’t want to get in my car and drive to the book store, or have to wait a week for it to ship from Amazon or Chapters online.

    This could be a very interesting venture. Of course EBooks can’t replace the romance of holding a book in your hands, but it provides a great way to provide the customer quick content.

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  8. Alex W says:

    In response to #6. People are already downloading books illegally. It’s not as easy as ripping a CD but people do scan their books to PDFs to pirate them.

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