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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

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Mark Ritchie July 7, 2015 um 4:25 pm

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.

disappointed January 5, 2017 um 11:57 am

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!

puzzled July 7, 2015 um 5:34 pm

Maybe this is the only ebook subscription model that works…

puzzled July 7, 2015 um 5:37 pm

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.

Muratcan Simsek July 8, 2015 um 3:27 am

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

This don’t have them, I guess?

Nate Hoffelder July 8, 2015 um 6:04 am


PatrickAsh July 8, 2015 um 7:19 am

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.

Nate Hoffelder July 8, 2015 um 7:29 am

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.

Jules July 10, 2015 um 1:41 am

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.

PatrickAsh July 10, 2015 um 11:02 am

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.

Nate Hoffelder July 10, 2015 um 11:06 am

The scan quality suggests that these were scraped from Google Books. I’m not sure where else they could have come from.

Nora Galgoczy July 13, 2015 um 1:43 am

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.

Nate Hoffelder July 19, 2015 um 2:22 pm

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.

PatrickAsh July 20, 2015 um 7:58 am

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?

C. Ritt January 31, 2021 um 10:12 pm

This commenter (Nora Galgoczy) works for Forgotten Books, according to Linkedin. Shill!

Forgotten books? | Making Book November 10, 2015 um 1:15 pm

[…] The Digital Reader alerts us to the fertile publishing of Forgotten Books. Forgotten Books, founded in 2007 with the goal of “rediscovering and republishing formerly out of print books”, claims to be the world’s largest publisher by number of titles. The Digital Reader tells us the company has “discovered 484,473 titles so far, and plans to discover another half million”. The Digital Reader continues “The titles I saw were made from the scanned print editions (like what you might find in Google Books) and did not contain text. [By which I assume he means searchable digital text, as opposed to a picture of the page.] 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’.” An Amazon search for “Publisher: Forgotten Books” brings up 537,645 results. The comment Digital Reader makes about their books not being good enough for Kindle, doesn’t seem altogether borne out in toto, though many of the books are available in print-on-demand editions as well. One example is enough and is perhaps indicative of how fluid such publishing can be. Alexander Hislop’s The Two Babylons is available for 99 cents as a Kindle book from Amazon Digital Services in four (at least) editions all with different publication dates, but looking like they are really the same thing; it is also available from Forgotten Books as a paperback for $10.28. Project Gutenberg doesn’t have it. Forgotten Books offer membership at $8.99 a month, or will sell you a book or ebook. You can however read their books on-line at their site for free. The Digital Reader characterizes this as scam publishing. […]

Caleb Kempf November 27, 2015 um 1:31 pm

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.

Jim Sloane December 24, 2015 um 1:22 pm

Nora – do you work for Forgotten Books?

Fer Men December 16, 2016 um 2:44 am

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.

James Blaine January 21, 2018 um 7:06 pm

I agree. The article gives a distorted view of Forgotten Books. They do offer a free book every single day, and if you don’t want to subscribe, then you don’t have to. If you do subscribe, you have a very wide choice of books that are interesting simply because they are old. Remember, in the nineteenth century lending libraries charged a fee for lending out books. Forgotten Books operates on the same principle. A lot of people subscribe to TV, for heaven’s sake. Is it so awful to think of paying a small amount for access to an online library?

Nate Hoffelder September 18, 2018 um 5:02 pm

"I visit 20 or 30 ebook sites regularly"

sometimes sockpuppets are easy to spot

Scott Culclasure September 22, 2017 um 10:04 pm

My book is protected under copyright in my name-a church history I wrote for my church and for which I did not ask for a dime. I gave written permission to Duke University to put it online in their religious studies collection. What’s "Forgotten Books" doing trying to turn a profit off it by offering it on their website?! (I’m not very hopeful of an answer from them.)

Scott Culclasure September 23, 2017 um 10:25 am

To be fair, Forgotten Books replied quickly to my complaint to them by sending a copyright infringement report form for me to complete and return.

L.C. Doolan March 1, 2018 um 12:26 pm

I bought from Amazon a print copy of the F.H. Dewey interlinear translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, Bks I-VI. I had to look for it because my copy of the original was lost when we moved several years ago. The Forgotten Books version was identical to my lost copy, and I’m very grateful to be able to have it in my library again.

Sarah April 25, 2019 um 5:36 pm

My husband and I bought a copy of Your Brain Is God off Amazon and it was through this “publisher” and the print is splotchy. It was illegible in many spots. The quality of this print is only good for starting a fire. ??

Ritwij Mishra October 21, 2019 um 3:37 am

Here is my relatively straightforward stance on this. I am a writer who is really fascinated by the – not necessarily exclusive – ideas both of downloading public domain works from and of building a home library. So it feels quite natural to wish to have a physical copy of, say, Prescott’s "The Poetic Mind", in my bookshelf alongwith a digital copy on my more ephemeral digital storage units. I have had stapled print-outs taken of over 50 such titles, all with the Google preamble still as their very first folio, and stacked in my bookshelf. Quite often, I discover on Amazon a "reprint" of a public domain title I would really wish to have a physical copy of. If the cost of a bound edition – even one by obscure, even shady, imprints as those of FB and one Palala Press – is not higher by, say, 200 INR, I make the purchase instead of making a trip to the nearby print shop. With these, the purchase is justified by their simply being printed facsimiles. Specially commissioned essays and insights into the work are attributes you never get – nor pay for – with these editions. When I do find a reprint by a reputable publishing house that did commission essays and insights, there is no way I can ever justify making a preference for an FB edition over the better (a tad more expensive, even) edition.

Gerry L High January 26, 2020 um 4:35 pm

I buy print books and download free e-books too.
Am happy. Don’t pay.

Antoni April 20, 2020 um 8:41 pm

I prefer the original books; if it is something I want badly enough, it is worth it, and I am patient.

Every “scanned” electronic book I have attempted to use in the past, has so many errors, e- artifacts and mistakes of some type as to make them unusable.

So is a $1000 1st Edition THAT expensive, when an electronic “attempt” is a general failure?

Some Books of Antiquity are worth the price; and I have not a single exemplar of the pitiful quality I have seen available!

To Each their Own.

Timothy Haley April 25, 2020 um 11:48 am

I have had the subscription for two year $216 dounloaded at least 400 books on the subject that most interests me. The salvation and reconciliation of all mankind in the consummation. If the average price from FB or any other publisher for a paperback was say $15 the total amount would be $6,000. I have loaded well over 600 more books of interest. My digital library is more than I could read in my life time being 64 years of age. At first I bought the paperbacks only from FB. After spending $650 I soon realized it would be cheaper to get the subscription and a tablet. Now we have FB on two laptops,two tablets, and PC. I dounload from other sights as well and when I have the same book from different sights the book from FB is preferred. digital quality is better. One last thing, only one time from FB did I get a bad book, it was paperback and missing 30 pages may have been the printer but after an email FB sent me the numbers for the dounload. The cost of the book was only $10. These books are not perfect but the greater part are certainly readable. It is apparent that they price paperbacks according to the number of pages in a book. Blessed are they that read.

George William Chilcoat July 10, 2020 um 8:48 am

I have bought four of these books. They are fantastic. Nate, I am looking for the following books that I believe you have printed: (1) Ninety seven annual conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1927; (2) Ninety nine Annual conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1929; (3) 100 Semi-annual conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October, 1929; (4) One hundred and Fifth semi-annual conference of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1934; (5) One hundred and Seventh Semi annual conference of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 1936; (6) One Hundred and twelve annual conference of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 1942. I believe that these books were reprinted by your company once.

C. Ritt January 31, 2021 um 10:10 pm

1. Forgotten books is a scam. The author is correct that you can get the books they offer free from googlebooks, Project Gutenberg, or other online sources. If you are paying for something you can download for free and print out (if you so choose), AND is also of extremely poor quality, you are being cheated. If you need further evidence, try to sell a printed copy of a Forgotten Books title to a used bookseller and see what they would offer you for it. They will tell you that you have trash.
2. Shills: The comments here defending the company read like the are from the company’s staff or paid shills. Rather than deal with the real complaints (quality, selling free content to unsuspecting people), the company appears to employ sock puppets as a means to deceiving people.
3. Quality: I’ve seen many of their printings and they are terrible in quality and often unusable for any library. Unfortunately, I don’t think this company can fix this, because they simply snatched free googlebooks (and the like). To create something of value to readers they would have had to pay to scan books properly, pick clean copies (which included all the pages) and had human editors look through the content to make sure it was a true facsimile. This all costs money, which is the opposite of what Forgotten books is about (scamming people into buying free books).

In conclusion: Never buy anything from Forgotten Books, because you can probably find it for free.

Ask a professional librarian to help you locate a resource if you are having trouble finding it. A librarian should be able to help you locate many of the books you would have paid for. Also, libraries pay for a number of ebook databases (but not for Forgotten Books, because again they are a SCAM) and can help you find a quality facsimile suitable for scholars or general readers. One good example I use is the Early English Books Online (EEBO) database accessed through ProQuest.

If you don’t have a library card, register for one. Most community colleges offer free community access, even if you don’t register for any classes, which include access to their library services. You even don’t need to go in person to most libraries, simply email the reference librarian with your request. Again, don’t use Forgotten Books, use the money these scammers would have stolen from you to help fund your local libraries.

BookLover January 10, 2022 um 10:19 pm

I can verify, I purchased A Method for Prayer by Matthew Henery from Forgotten Books and it was an unreadable printout of a library book that looks like some pages were scribbled on. Do not recommend. Download free scans of books from archive . org or pay to get a retypeset version.

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