Amazon Really Doesn’t Like Free eBooks

I’m on the mailing list. There was a message from founder Eric Hellman in my inbox today letting me know that the world’s first unglued eBook, Oral Literature in Africa, is available in the iBookstore.

I took a few minutes to check the Swiss store, and sure enough there it was:

Since it has been unglued, I was able to download it for free. Here is a snap of the copyright page from iBooks.

Despite this, it seems that Amazon isn’t offering the book for free. According to Eric,

It’s also available in the Kindle Store. But there’s a problem. Amazon doesn’t like free ebooks. The lowest they’ll price it (without charging the publisher a fee for the download) is $1.99. But Amazon will lower the price to zero if other retailers offer it for free. So go ahead and click the “tell us about a lower price” link. The publisher has done that, and we’ve done that. We want it to be free there too!

I checked the Kindle store online. The eBook is priced at $2.43.

Ironically, the preview displays the copyright page, and right there in the preview, the link to Open Book Publishers is live. When you click, it will take you to the Oral Literature in Africa page where you can download a free Kindle version directly from their site.

Update, November 14: Since I received Michele’s comment, several people have reported on Twitter that Amazon has lowered the price of Oral Literature in Africa to $0 including I’ve been able to confirm this on the Amazon Kindle Store search results page. On the book page however, Amazon is now showing me a price of $2.38. I don’t know why, but I suspect it might have something to do with my location. I’m accessing the Kindle Store from Switzerland.

Further reading: “Unglues” Its First Book
Open Thread: Amazon Forces To Suspend Crowdfunding For Creative Commons eBooks

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10 Responses to Amazon Really Doesn’t Like Free eBooks

  1. Reblogged this on Possibly Nonsense and commented:
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  2. miki says:

    Free books are nifty to some degree… but someone took the time and effort to put the book in e-format, and all of the other things which have to be done to get the book to the people who read it. Amazon is not a charity- personally I don’t work for free and I don’t expect anyone else to do so either. I have bills to pay – so do they. Why should you expect to get it free? I think a low fee is not unreasonable.

    • laura says:

      Hi miki, In this case, the someone who “took the time and effort to put the book in e-format, and all of the other things which have to be done to get the book to the people who read it” is Open Book Publishers, and they are exactly the ones who want the book to be free in the Kindle store.

      The whole idea of is that they raise money through crowd funding pay for this work. In exchange for compensation the rights holder agrees to “free” the book from copyright restrictions and put it in the public domain, which in this case is a Creative Commons BY 3.0 license.

      The point here is that Amazon is not allowing the rights holder to offer a book in the Kindle store for free.

    • manogamez says:

      I’d gladly convert the PDF or AI file that most publishers have these days to mobi or azw. It took me a couple of hours to convert a 1000 page book last time I did it and it was a high quality conversion.

      As for hosting, an eBook is a few hundred KB at most. A meme image from imgur is usually twice that size.

  3. Michele says:

    Did Amazon read your article? It’s free now. Thanks for the information.

    • laura says:

      Thanks for the update. I suspect it has more to do with people clicking the “tell us about a lower price” button than Amazon reading my post.

  4. Project Gutenberg books have always been free (donation supported), Baen Books considers free downloads of the electronic edition of prior books to be adverts for the new book in the series. Amazon is a commercial venture and “free” does not fit their business plan. I have Grandmother’s poetry on my website, and an epub version of those pages available for free download, because her poetry being known is far more important than a download fee.

  5. Pingback: Fighting “Unglued” ebooks, Black Friday competition, the Zombie Apocalypse, and more

  6. Pingback: Why Amazon May End Up Unglued | The well-prepared mind

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