Where to find good editions and an affordable price.
You want free – go to a library. While you still can!
Or consider a subscription to an academic library. It can be great value for money if you read a lot of non-standard/mainstream work. Most universities allow ‘friends’ or ‘external readers’ to take subscriptions. You are usually limited in library services (you don’t get access to their digital collections)
Second hand editions. The value of the paper book has plummeted. You can pick up loads of books for little more than the postage. Books that will set you back the best part of £20 can be purchased for between £3 and £7. Just because someone else once read them.
Print on Demand. In and of itself this is not a problem. In fact, in many ways it's a good thing. Many very reputable printers are using this model of printing these days - it keeps stock low and thus has a 'green' angle. It enables niche market publishing. As a technology it is sound. But as with all technology it can be used unscrupulously. You need to be aware of the difference between high quality new editions using the technology and poor quality 'digitised' books which are effectively photocopies/scans.
The real dangers of Print on Demand
You need to be aware of the scam side of the market.
There are rather too many companies jumping in on the act of digitised print. Digitised (which means scanned) copies of work abound, and many are not cheap. (They use Print on Demand model, but not all Print on Demand books are simply 'digitised' versions of texts.)
There are signs to look out for.
If you see any of these kind of disclaimers….
This historic book may have numerous typos, missing text or index. Purchasers can download a free scanned copy of the original book (without typos) from the publisher.
This book was originally published prior to 1923, and represents a reproduction of an important historical work, maintaining the same format as the original work. While some publishers have opted to apply OCR (optical character recognition) technology to the process, we believe this leads to sub-optimal results (frequent typographical errors, strange characters and confusing formatting) and does not adequately preserve the historical character of the original artifact. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as blurred or missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work or the scanning process itself. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy seeing the book in a format as close as possible to that intended by the original publisher.
If you see this, run a mile.
Always be wary of the publishing source. Be very wary of the ‘classic reprint’ claim, it’s usually scanned. Don’t even bother with Bibliolife or Leopold Classic Library. Even the British Library has been known to undertake this scam.
If a book is worthy ‘preserving’ for cultural purposes it’s worth someone putting in the effort to edit, typeset and publish ‘properly.’ Books which are created from digital scans are rarely any better than the poor digital download you have left behind in order to get your hands on a physical copy. So. You have to do a bit of research on the publisher before you purchase. One click can be fast but result in a very disappointing result! You have been warned.
If you’re going to get involved in digital reading you need to understand something about the technology.
PDF – this file will give an accurate reflection of what it captures. So it’s the best quality reproduction you will get. On the downside, the file sizes are HUGE – you’re looking at 12MB instead of 400KB file.
If you are reading via dedicated ebook standards, Kindle (mobi/azw)or epub files (and their variants) you will get smaller file sizes but often more corrupt scans. Unless someone has re-edited the entire content you’ll get repeated errors such as u for n c for e and the like. And often the spacing is random. Frequently the text is absolutely unreadable. Beware of course that some of the digital downloads will have been ‘edited’ for the length of the ‘free sample’ and beyond that… there are some unscrupulous businesses out there remember.
There are also some good guys in the value for money stakes. I should give a shout out for Delphi classics ebooks. These offer real value for money. Sadly, not all unco authors are covered.
Read online. If you have the connection and the portable device, reading online means that you can access PDF (which is as close a file format to the original as you will get) which will give you the best quality available (which isn’t always acceptable quality!)
Free downloads. Again, if you have infinite space and a superfast connection, no problem. You can download huge files and read at your leisure.
BUT be aware that when you’re getting ‘free’ you may be getting something that is actually worthless. Not always, but often. The scan will at best only be as good as the original its scanned from and OCR struggles massively with 19th century (and earlier) fonts. If you have a public domain work that’s been reprinted many times in the 20th century someone will be able to scan accurately… but these tend not to be the books we’re looking for. ‘Rare’ books are less likely to be good quality for free. Get used to the idea. You can waste a lot of good reading time trying to track down an acceptable digital download.
For free that’s not too much hassle, but you can pay good money for something that’s just as poor quality. You need to do your research on the purported publisher before you commit time and money to their download.
If you have an academic affiliation the prospect is a lot brighter. Which seems unfair, but at the moment there are still many gatekeepers between you and many unco writers.