Free Books and Free Culture Online

Audiobooks have come a long way since the days of eight-pack
cassettes rattling off Jane Austen in a classic British lilt.
Today, if you want to listen to Pride and Prejudice you
have options: You can check out a recorded version from your local
library; you can pay anywhere from $10.95 to $47.59 to download it
from Audible.com or iTunes; or you can skip the trip and the
expense by downloading and listening to it for free on websites
like LibriVox
and Project
Gutenberg
. For lovers of books like Austen’s, where the
copyrights have long since expired, the internet can be a virtual
audio library.

One of the fastest growing free audiobook collections on the
internet is available at LibriVox. Started in August of 2005, LibriVox
has become the go-to website for audiobooks in the public domain.
According to the
LibriVox blog, volunteers of the website
completed and catalogued 70 new audiobook titles in March alone.
Users can search for specific books or browse the entire
catalogue of more than 580 texts.

Part of the inspiration for LibriVox came from
Project
Gutenberg
, an endeavor that began in 1971 to distribute
plain-text versions of books for free. The website currently offers
more than 20,000 books from its online catalogue, all of which are
free for download. Project Gutenberg has joined up with LibriVox,
the nonprofit Internet Archive, and others to offer free
downloads of hundreds of audiobooks (both human-read and
computer-generated) in more than 50 languages.

Websites like LibriVox and Project Gutenberg owe some of their
popularity to a movement much larger than the websites themselves.
According to Michael Erard, writing for
Reason, ‘the fact [that] the recordings
are free is but a fortunate byproduct of a larger process with
broader economic and philosophical implications.’ Erard writes that
LibriVox has been embraced by the growing ‘free culture’ community,
which believes that music, books, movies, and art should ideally be
non-proprietary and free. These advocates are the most frequent
contributors to LibriVox, holed up in their basements with simple
recording equipment and no thoughts of financial compensation.

Even if you don’t buy into the ‘free culture’ movement, it’s
nice to be able to listen to audiobooks for free. The downloads can
be slow and recordings aren’t always great, but sometimes listening
to an amateur reading Austen can be just right. And if you don’t
like the quality, you can always grab a microphone and start
recording an audiobook of your own.

Go there >>
The Wealth of LibriVox

Go there too >>
LibriVox

And there >>
Project Gutenberg

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