Forgotten Books Buys 500,000 ISBNs, Makes Bid for Title of World’s Largest Spam and Scam Book Publisher

forgotten books logo Buyer Beware.

A "publisher" by the name of Forgotten Books has just gave us another reminder that there is enough money in ebooks to attract scammers.

Forgotten Books supports a website where it claims to publish public domain works. It then puts adverts up next to the (poor quality) ebooks, and tries to entice you into signing up for a paid membership. While FB claims to have a half million titles in its catalog, there's nothing here worth paying for.

If you haven't heard of this "publisher" before (I had not), Forgotten Books says that it was founded in 2007 with the goal of "rediscovering and republishing formerly out of print books" (it's rediscovered 484,473 titles so far, and plans to discover another half million).

To put it another way, Forgotten Books scrapes books uploaded to Project Gutenberg, and titles posted to Google Books, and republishes them under its own imprint.

FB is not the only ones to do that; many sites, including Feedbooks and MobileRead forums, host collections of public domain titles. Few sites, however, charge you to download those ebooks or can claim to produce such abysmally poor ebooks.

While other sites make efforts to create legible ebooks, Forgotten Books has hit upon the easy way to publish half a million books with no effort.

I spent a few hours browsing the Forgotten Books website this morning and I can report that none of the ebooks on that site would meet most people's definitions of ebooks - they would not even be allowed in the Kindle Store.

The titles I saw were made from the scanned print editions (like what you might find in Google Books) and did not contain text. The books were marginally readable at best; most had artifacts from the scanning process blurring the text on one page or another. And to top things off, Forgotten Books also slaps adverts inside the ebooks they "publish".

But hey, Forgotten Books has published a half million of them, and is working on putting out another half million. Who cares that the ebooks are crap?

Clearly Forgotten Books does not, and they're hoping they can find readers who don't know any better.

FB will let you read the ebooks online, but if you want to download one of the books you will need to sign up for an account. Also, if you want to read without adverts you will need to get a paid membership for the site.

Yes. Forgotten Books is offering a paid membership to read the same ebooks you can find elsewhere for free. They want $9 a month for access to this crap.

On second thought, I may have mischaracterized Forgotten Books; it is not a spam publisher so much as it is a scam publisher.

They're charging readers for access to free content?

That is a scam, folks. It's not the first one I've seen and it won't be the last, but it is most definitely a scam.

Buyer beware.

image by jepoirrier

About Nate Hoffelder (10619 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

17 Comments on Forgotten Books Buys 500,000 ISBNs, Makes Bid for Title of World’s Largest Spam and Scam Book Publisher

  1. I’ve actually bought paper books that have been reprinted by them from 100 year old originals. They definitely have existed as a paper publisher.

    • I have just purchased a print book from Forgotten Books and the quality is terrible, with many illegible pages and illustrations barely on the page. I guess I am one of the book hunters who got caught. Other buyers from their site, beware!

  2. Maybe this is the only ebook subscription model that works…

  3. And as for the quality of the books, I’ve gotten ebooks from Kobo with the same problems or worse. Images of scanned books, books published from only the initial OCR scan (with no attempt to even remove headings/footings which showed up on each “page”).

    The point that wasn’t addressed is why they were buying the ISBNs. The only reason I can think of is that they want to listed in someone’s ebook sales statistics.

  4. Muratcan Simsek // 8 July, 2015 at 3:27 am // Reply

    I will only pay for public domain ebooks when they include nice introductions and extensive footnotes.

    This don’t have them, I guess?

  5. I borrowed a paperback published by Forgotten Books from a campus library. So maybe books need an ISBN to get there…I guess. I don’t remember it being of a bad quality, but I just borrowed one book.

    • I’m not sure why you’d need to buy a half million ISBNs for that.

      CreateSpace (a POD service) will give you an ISBN for free. That ISBN can then be used in Ingram’s competing POD service.

  6. If I want these older books I just go to Gutenberg and download them for free. I can’t see the point in paying for them. I see these bad quality books pop up all over the place along with other scams. Gutenberg books are decent, if plain, quality and come in a variety of formats with the only annoying thing being the pages of conditions – but hey, they’re free. Forgotten Books is extremely cheeky for ‘republishing’ them under their own imprint when they have put so little work into them. Even printing on demand doesn’t really qualify. For those who aren’t familiar check out Much better value.

  7. I don’t understand. Gutenberg has like 50,000 titles. They can’t get all their books from Gutenberg since this article mentions 484,473? Or is it less?
    These subscription ebook services are one thing, but I still buy paperbacks and hardcovers even if I own a Kindle. People still buy print books. Look at others like BiblioBazaar, they do the same thing, they republish old books, print them and sell them, it’s not that uncommon. And looking at the Amazon reviews, people actually buy reprints.

  8. This article must be the result of the writer not having enough real topics to write about. The whole writing comes from an upset kid, that’s all.
    A few years back I have found Forgotten Books’ website accidentally and started to read their books on the site for free. I have found a number of books that I couldn’t find anywhere else in a reasonably good (readable) quality but there. Yes, they are free elsewhere but those free versions are scanned pages of very-VERY old print books in a state that I could not enjoy reading them. FB somehow made those books enjoyable to read whilst not taking the “soul” of the book away, maintaining the old style look but not forcing the reader to compromise on quality. I am pleased that I have found their site and after having a look at their free books I have bought a number of print books from them. Those books are some of the best additions to my bookshelf. I am considering their subscription services but I am more of a print fan. I might have been just lucky not having to come across with their poor quality books but after buying about 20 books from them and was nothing but happy with my books I think it is unlikely. So since it is completely free I’d recommend everyone who likes to read real good books (not just trendy bestsellers) to go and have a look for themselves as they can’t lose a thing. I am more than confident that you’ll realise that the above article was only written the way it was because the writer does not have the skill to attract reader attention any other way but by swearing and trying to shock.

    • Forgotten Books wants you to pay $9 a month for access to public domain works, while Scribd will charge you the same and let you read from a catalog of a million current copyrighted titles.

      Yes, Forgotten Books is a scam.

      • So am I being scammed only if I purchase a membership for ebooks? Am I still being scammed If I purchase their print books from Amazon? What if I purchase a paperback from my local bookshop, who is scamming me? The publisher or the store?

  9. I have bought some of their actual, physically printed books and loved them. There is so much great and important history and information that they make available for a very reasonable price (I don’t read E books, which are free). In my experience, they provide a service that is of immense value in today’s world. Of course if you are looking for 50 Shades of Gray you may be disappointed. I have been very pleased with their books that I have on my shelf, and though I don’t use them, I think its cool that they put them on net for free.

  10. Nora – do you work for Forgotten Books?

  11. It’s surprising to find an ebook expert who never heard of Forgotten Books. I visit 20 or 30 ebook sites regularly, have been receiving religiously my “Free Book of the Day” from Forgotten Books for over a year, and I am not an ebook expert at all. My fav site is Lectulandia, but it’s all Spanish. Still, FB delivers much better quality and readability than, for example, Internet Archive’s scans. No idea if FB has any staff. From what I know, it’s the job of Alasdair Forsythe, in the UK.

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