Pay for books? Seriously?

Digital versions of these rare texts are now available.
Digital versions of these rare texts are now available courtesy of the University of Illinois Press and the University of Illinois Rare Book and Special Collections Library.

One of the things I love about living in Champaign-Urbana is the prominence of books in our culture. In addition to the U of I libraries, we have three public libraries, one for each city as well as a branch, that serve a population that hovers around 150,000. As an offshoot of this, used books are practically given away. I know that’s the case everywhere, but I’ve lived in and visited other cities, and few seem to have the massive quantities of “dead-tree versions” (see below) that we do.

We also have the distinction of being the birthplace of the e-book and the one-time home of Project Gutenberg.

In other words, living here could lead one to presume that books should be free. After all, what’s the difference between getting a book for free from the library, paying a measly $1 for one, or even picking up a paperback off the breakroom table? Yesterday Galleycat referenced a blogpost on Thoughts by Ted on the ethics of reading illegal digital copies of books that may or may not be available legally in the format the reader desires (mainly non-dead-tree formats). Handily,’s weekly email included a link to this article highlighting online references that give introductions to copyright for librarians and patrons, and hopefully to book-buyers as well.

The University of Illinois Press has had select digital books available for nearly ten years now, and we are in the process of setting up a broader digital book program. As a publisher we are heeding the pleas of book-buyers. Somehow I don’t think even the largest publishers would get the preferential treatment given to GM, Ford, and Chrysler if we continue publishing 800-page SUVs when buyers’ preferences shift to economy hybrids.