British Library releases thousands of free e-books

The British Library is promising 65,000 free e-books this spring, which means you no longer have any excuse for your ignorance of the classics.

The works, from out-of-copyright nineteenth-century authors such as Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, will be made available to Kindle users with the help of funding from Microsoft.

The books will be published in their original typeface and with the original illustrations, and will also be available in printed form from Amazon for around £15.

It’s the first time that these first editions have been available in electronic form, and it’s taken the library and Microsoft three years to scan them all. There are plans to extend the list to include early twentieth-century books too.

Not all the books will be completely edifying: they will include ‘penny dreadfuls’ such as Black Bess by Edward Viles and The Dark Woman by J M Rymer.

“Making 19th century fiction available for free through the Kindle ebook reader opens up a new global readership for forgotten literary gems,” writes British Library chief executive Lynne Brindley in The Times.

“Freeing historic books from the shelves has the potential to revolutionise access to the world’s greatest library resources. To meet the ever increasing demands of our users the library is negotiating with other key industry players to ensure we maximise potential for access.”

She said the library was aiming to provide 50 million items in digital format by 2020.