The British Library is to make thousands of classic 19th century works available as e-books completely free of charge.
In a joint venture with Microsoft, some 65,000 works will be offered as free downloads in the spring, with authors including the likes of Charles Dickens, Jules Verne and Jane Austen. The titles, all officially out of copyright, will be available as special digital “first editions”, complete with the original typeface and illustrations, and will significantly bolster the Library’s e-book catalogue.
Besides well-known 19th century literature, the selection will also include so-called “penny dreadfuls”, such as JM Rymer’s The Dark Woman and Black Bess by Edward Viles. Around 40 per cent of the titles on offer aren’t available in any other library. Alongside the digital titles, supporting paperback editions of many of the works will go on sale through Amazon for around £15 apiece, also featuring the original typeface and illustrations.
The announcement marks the end of a three-year process of scanning in the titles, a project funded by Microsoft. The 19th century literature was specifically chosen because it is out of copyright so can be copied freely. With the British Library officially holding at least one copy of every work of literature released in the UK, it claims that 35 to 40 per cent of its 19th century titles aren’t held by any other library.
“Freeing historic books from the shelves has the potential to revolutionise access to the world’s greatest library resources,” said Lynne Brindley, the library’s chief executive, told the Telegraph.