19th century online romance — and access barriers to public domain texts

Via BoingBoing, a review of a book about romance via online chat, written in the 19th century. Not a metaphor, it’s what the book is really about — telegraph style! Sweet.

So you can get the book from Project Gutenberg, in ascii.

But to read something that long, I’d really prefer a properly typeset copy, say in PDF so I can easily read it on my laptop or ipad. Maybe ePub, although frankly I’d rather have PDF, I’m pretty unsophisticated when it comes to e-reading. (I almost always prefer to read books in print — when they’re available in print!)

Google Books has got the full text freely available to read online in their page scroller. But if Google Books still offers free PDF or ePub downloads of out-of-copyright works, I can’t figure out how. Clicking on the “Free” button, after a popup that seems to promise it’s going to give me PDF and ePub versions — takes me to ‘Google Play’, which says it’s been ‘added to my library’, and I can now download an Android app to read it on my Android device. Um, I have no Android device. I just want to download a file, man! Like I said, it kind of seems like there might be a actual PDF and/or ePub download hiding around there somewhere, but they sure don’t make it easy to find if so, and I can’t confirm.

HathiTrust has got it (via the same Google Scan), and will let you view it on an online page-scroller same as Google. If you want to download it as a complete PDF — they’ll let you if and only if you are affiliated with a HathiTrust member institution.  I am, so I have now downloaded it, woo.  If you are not affiliated with a HathiTrust member institution, you are out of luck.  I have been clearly told by HathiTrust folks that this is not by their choice — it’s a contractual restriction they have with Google.  The limited number of public domain full text HathiTrust has that has not come from Google, they let anyone download as PDF.

So, this out of copyright book from the 19th century has been re-discovered because it is public domain, and online. Nobody would know about it or be able to read it if it weren’t for this. But if you actually want a fascimile of the original typeset copy to use in the manner and on the device of your choosing — Google’s commercial interests sure don’t make it easy, despite being no longer under copyright.


5 thoughts on “19th century online romance — and access barriers to public domain texts”

  1. Update: Chris Beer points out that, at the Google Books page, if you hover your mouse over the “Read Ebook” button, you a popup with options to download PDF and ePub, that do work.

    I was confused before, because I thought this mouseover popup was just telling you about what was going to happen if you did click ‘Read Ebook’ — I didn’t realize it had links comprising options unique to the popup, that you weren’t going to get after clicking ‘Read Ebook’.

    But okay, PDF/ePub downloads are still available from GBS. I’d still say that they aren’t particularly apparent.

    I also have no idea what happens on a touch screen where you can’t generally access mouseover popups.

  2. If you click on the “gear” icon on the far right, it displays a dropdown menu containing, amongst other things, “Download EPUB”, “Download PDF”, and “Plain text”.

    And not surprisingly, Google _is_ aware of the constraints on mobile devices. When I visit that page using Chrome on my Galaxy Nexus (Android phone), it switches to a mobile view and shows two clearly marked “Download EPUB” and “Download PDF” links at the top of the displayed book. Using Firefox on Android, it shows me the desktop view, but the “gear” icon is clickable and works as expected.

  3. The terms of service specifically allow the IA, mentioned by name? Can you provide a URL? That is odd that they’d allow the IA (where there are no further access restrictions), but require HathiTrust not to redistribute except to HT members.

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