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Free for All: National Academies Press Puts All 4,000 Books Online at No Charge

Today the National Academies Press announced it would offer its entire PDF catalog of books for free, as files that can be downloaded by anyone. The press is the publishing arm of the National Academies of Sciences and Engineering, the Institute of Medicine, and the National Research Council, and publishes books and reports that scientists, educators, and policy makers rely on.

Barbara Kline Pope, executive director for the press, said it had previously offered 65 percent of its titles—ones that were narrow in scope—for free. “The 35 percent that we are adding today will reach a wider audience, and we are doing it because it’s central to our mission to get this information to everyone,” she said.

Ms. Pope, who had been up all night testing that the downloads worked properly—the Web site was remarkably slow today—said the first new title taken was Surrounded by Science: Learning Science in Informal Environments, which sells in hardcover for $24.95. A more technical tome, but very popular among researchers, is Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards, which costs $99.95 in hardcover. (The press has published a set of instructions for getting the free PDFs.)

“Eight years ago, if we did this, we would have lost substantial amounts of money,” Ms. Pope says. “But our costs have come down a lot, and our institution says they will stand behind us even if we do lose money.” The operating costs of the press are lower, she said, because it jettisoned its own printing and fulfillment operations (they are now outsourced) and cut staff from about 70 people down to about 40. It also no longer prints catalogs but does all its marketing over the Internet. “So now we can afford to do this,” she says. “Of course, we still need to sell some hardcover books.”

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