We want to buy your books! Internet Archive Letter to Publishers

Thank you for your willingness to invest in the future of publishing and readership. Libraries and publishers have a lot in common: we connect writers with readers which promotes literacy, scholarship, and citizenship.

We want to buy more digital books from you.

We currently buy, lend, and preserve eBooks from publishers and booksellers, but we have not found many eBooks for sale at any price.  The Internet Archive is running standard protection systems to lend eBooks from our servers through our websites, openlibrary.org and archive.org.   In this way, we strive to provide a seamless experience for our library patrons that replicates a traditional library check-out model, but now with eReaders and searching.

By buying eBooks from you, we hope to continue the productive relationship between libraries and publishers. By respecting the rights and responsibilities that have evolved in the physical era, we believe we will all know how to act: one patron at a time, restrictions on copying, re-format for enduring access, and long term preservation.

We understand these are early days, and prices will evolve.  What we would like to do, however, is not lose the relationship libraries have built up with publishers just because we are now buying and lending electronic books rather than physical ones.

Our checkbook is open.   Please sell to us.


Brewster Kahle

Digital Librarian, Internet Archive



(inspired by one from Douglas County’s in Colorado)

7 thoughts on “We want to buy your books! Internet Archive Letter to Publishers

  1. Paul StJohn Mackintosh

    I’m sorry to have to pour any cold water on an otherwise excellent initiative, but if the Internet Archive is to live up to this, it needs to put some serious work into improving the quality of some of its etexts. Kindle and ePub versions of some of the most interesting works in the collection (Edmund Wilson’s “Axel’s Castle”, for instance) are virtually unreadable. Publishers may not do much for their money these days, but if they can go to the effort of formatting their books properly and making sure they’re legible, then so should a public archive of record.

  2. peter Post author

    Thanks, Paul. The titles we purchase from publishers come to us direct from their processing, and while errors exist, are generally clean. The errors from our older books, most likely the ones you notice in our own generated epub and kindle files, are a result of our automated OCR. Older books tend to have been more creatively designed than books post-1950, and our machines have a harder time with those. We have tried to figure out an optimal crowdsourced correction problem for this that scales to the level we need, but that’s a work in progress.

    Thanks for using our books!

  3. karen

    Would you please explain the statement: “we have not found many ebooks for sale at any price.” How is it different for a library to buy an ebook than for an individual? Many of us who buy lots of ebooks would be interested in understanding how the process is different for a library who intends to lend the book.

    1. peter Post author

      Karen, this is a good question. Because ebooks are digital files, they need to be hosted somewhere in order to be made available to individuals. When you buy from Amazon, they are hosting the file for the publisher, and permit its download when you purchase it. For a library to support borrowing, it has to have the ebook file hosted on its behalf, as most libraries lack deep technical expertise; traditionally this is done by a service provider such as Overdrive. What the Internet Archive, Califa (California public library consortium), and Douglas County, Colorado are trying to do is host those files directly for their patrons. To do that, we need to get the files direct from the publisher or their intermediary distributor — in essence, we are playing the role of Amazon or Barnes & Noble, except that as a library we want people to be able to borrow for free. This sounds complicated, and it is, but then we have to introduce DRM, which is a technical protection measure that a library ebook provider has to implement in order to assure publishers that they are not risking an unacceptable loss of sales. DRM complicates the user experience considerably.

  4. Rokhan

    Instead of buying, if you ask the authors to upload books to your site and you could sell them giving a certain percentage of royalty [better than amazon, barnes and nobles etc] then both of you will benefit.

    1. Loyd Auerbach

      As an author, I think this is a great idea on the one hand, and difficult on the other.

      As to the first, many authors either have the rights to their own out of print books (I do, for example) and would be happy to work out a deal with Archive.org along this suggestion. There are many who have only published ebooks (Kindle, Nook, etc.) themselves, and consequently have all rights as well.

      On the other hand, when authors go with a traditional publisher, most often the ebook rights are sold to the publisher. This means that such titles are not in the author’s power even to upload to sites like Amazon/Kindle themselves.

      There are certainly enough out-of-print/rights reverted books out there to make a good start for Archive.org — the one real stumbling block for the authors being that they may not have an electronic version of the book, and even when they do, it’s rarely the final edited version (the one that got published). But for those who do….

Comments are closed.