Here’s a new Q&A (Question and Answer)

Here’s a new Q&A (Question and Answer) we’ve written for our website.  We thought it was important enough to publish on our blog as well.  We invite your thoughts and comments!

Here’s the question:

You sell downloads of books that I can read for free online.  Why should I pay you money to download a book I can read for free?

Here’s our answer:

Thanks for asking!

First off, there are many cases when you should definitely read the book as a free online rather than paying us (or someone else) for a download, or even buying a printed book!  Here are a few examples:

Is the book historical fiction about the area you’re interested in?  Then, definitely read the freebie.  Likely you’re reading it for pleasure, but even if you’re reading it in connection with an area you’re interested in, you’re most likely looking for a sense of what things were like back then in that locale, and there’s nothing like good historical fiction to give you that sense.

Are you a little unsure whether the book is actually going to contain useful information?  There are plenty of examples of this, but here’s one:  you spot a genealogy with the same surname you’re seeking – but it’s not a particularly rare name.  Use the free download to confirm it.

Is your interest in this particularly area not quite focused yet?  Here’s an example:  many families migrated westward in steps; one generation in one locale, and the next a few hundred miles west.  If you can find local history material that you can download for free about the locales where they stopped (and also where they passed through but didn’t settle) you can pick up a lot of information at no cost.

So, then, why should I buy a download instead of (or in addition to) using a freebie?  Well, here are some factors to consider:

–Perhaps we’re offering something more than just the book itself.  For example, perhaps we indexed the book we republished.  The originals lacked an index, and we new one would add value, so we compiled one.  Indexes can be terribly useful.

–Some free (and some paid) downloads offer a PDF search.  You key in the term you’re after, and you’re presented with 100% matches.  Well, we don’t care for PDF searches, because they’re too sensitive to seemingly inconsequential differences.  They tend not to realize that “M’Cutcheon” is the same as “McCutcheon” or that Hodgkin, Hodke, Hotchkiss, Hotchkin, Hodkins, Hotchkins, Hochkin, and a variety of others are all the same family in different places at different times.  PDF search for “Hotchkin” and you won’t get matches on “Hochkin” and vice versa.  With an index to check, you’ve got a fighting chance of picking up those minor differences.  And, with a PDF search, such a minor daily occurrence in old time print shops as a damaged letter being used in setting a paragraph of type can result in a missed match.

–If you happen to be downloading files on your phone or your iPad, or somewhere else where you’re subject to a data plan, downloading the same file repeatedly can chew up your monthly data allocation pretty rapidly.

–Depending on where you download your free download from, there may be difficulties in copying or printing selections from the download.  In most cases these are designed to be difficult to copy.  We design our downloads so you can copy or print just as much of it as you want.

–This is a big one, particularly if you’re planning on publishing your work and need accurate footnotes or bibliographic citations – or if you’re applying to a hereditary society and need to be able to direct the genealogist to the specific mention in a larger book.  Most e-books, and many other publishing forms used for online books for download do not retain page numbers.  (Some, of course, do.)  Our downloads are page images, including not only original page numbers but even marginal doodling (or notes someone may have made in the copy we scanned).

–Realistically, people don’t expect ultra high quality images in downloads.  After all, you’re unlikely to want to frame an image from a download and hang it on the wall!  However, it is worth noting that the image quality in most free downloads is pretty bad.  Sufficiently so that it can be hard to tell what a person looks like.  Ours are not gallery quality, but we think they’re pretty good representations of what’s in the book.  Also, if you’ve looked at many free downloads, you’ll notice occasionally a page gets folded over in the scanning process.  What you see is what you get.  Because we hand-scan all of our material, you simply don’t have that problem with our downloads.

–In our day of government austerity, when state and Federal budget shortfalls seem to be covered by cuts in museums, libraries, archives, and that sort of thing, it’s not hard to imagine that given a choice between paying the staff and keeping a set of free downloads available online, the free downloads are apt to go first.  Remember that no matter who provides it, it does cost someone money to provide downloads, whether free or not.  Once you’ve purchased one of our downloads, you own it and you can access it whenever you want.

Bottom Line

Hotchkin's History of Western New York State
Hotchkin’s History of Western New York State

It’s always a good idea to see if you can save a little money on incidental purchases, so by all means do check to see if you can locate a free download of a book or other document you want to read.  But please consider what trade-off you’re making.

By the way, we’ve recently republished an important book about the history of the settlement of western New York State as a download (previously we sold it as a CD-ROM).  It’s Hotchkin’s History of Western New York.   It’s pretty good!  Have a look!

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