What Are Public Domain Books and How to Make Money Selling Them? - Kotobee Blog (2023)


Isn’t it thrilling to find more ways to make money, especially if it doesn’t require much effort? One easy method to do this is by reworking and selling already published books. But for this to be totally legit, you have to focus mainly on publishing public-domain books.

If you’d like to know more about what public domain books are and how to resell them, then you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll cover everything about public domain books, how to make money from publishing them, and any possible restrictions on selling them.

What Are Public Domain Books and How to Make Money Selling Them? - Kotobee Blog (1)

What Are Public Domain Books?

Public domain books are books that are not protected by copyrights. Such books were not created with a copyright license or the license expired and was not renewed.

As soon as a book enters the public domain, it belongs and is available to everyone. In essence, it can be duplicated and shared by anyone. You may decide to publish a part or the entire book without encountering any legal issues.

When Does a Book Become Public Domain?

Each country has unique copyright regulations regarding public domain books. However, a book is usually copyrighted in most countries until 70 years after the author’s death. After that, there is a level playing field for anyone who wishes to use it, with a few exceptions.

It is worth noting that any book published before 1923 is automatically in the public domain. Moreover, most books published between 1923-1963 are now available to the public because the copyrights were not renewed.

A book can also become public domain for different reasons, such as old publication date or the author’s death date. You can infer if an ebook is free to use by knowing the day it was published and whether the author is alive (in this case, how old) or if they are dead (in this case, how long it has been since they passed away).

Is It Legal to Make Money off Public Domain Books?

Yes, it is. As long as you are sure that the book is in the public domain, there are no restrictions. Just make sure it is unique enough and adds value to your readers so that people would want to buy it.

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Where Can You Find Public Domain Books?

Before going through the process of republishing, you must find the particular book (or books) that you want to use. Many sites provide you with enough public domain books to use at your disposal. Here are a few examples:

  • Project Gutenberg: This resource has over 60,000 free ebooks, including lots of public domain ebooks, for you to read online and download. It doesn’t require payment, registration, or unique apps to access materials.
  • Internet Archive: On this site, you can access tens of thousands of public domain books.
  • Authorama: This site has books by popular and legendary authors. It allows you to read online and offline. Moreover, it’s a sure place to acquire classic books.
  • Sacred Texts: On this website, you can find the largest free resources on religion, mythology, and folklore books.
  • Classic Literature Library: Affiliated with Gutenberg, this library is known for having public domain books by famous authors. For example, it has several poems and stories from notable people like William Shakespeare and Charles Darwin.

Other sites like Europeana, Feedbooks, and Loyal Books also provide public domain books, and the list goes on.

How To Choose Public Domain Books For Republishing

With this amount of free public domain ebooks, the next thing you need to know is how to choose the ones that you want to republish. Don’t worry; the best thing to do is to start thinking to yourself: What would you love to read? What would you be interested in?

Examples of Public Domain Books

Below are some examples of the most well-known and exceptional public domain books.

All these are exciting stories that you can republish.

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Steps of Legally Publishing a Public Domain Book

After deciding on which books to publish, it’s time to create a copy of this book that people will be willing to pay for. Here’s what you have to do:

1. Make It Unique

For you to publish your version of a public domain book on ebook publishing platforms, such as Amazon, it must be unique. Since everyone has the right to publish the book, adding sprinkles of originality here and there will distinguish it and capture the readers’ attention.

To properly differentiate your book, you need to do one of the following: translation, annotation, or illustration. Consequently, authors are required to specify one of these in the title field.

Here are some examples of things Amazon considers unique when adding it to your public domain book.

  • Explanation of historical context
  • Analyses of literal comments
  • Illustrations of places and objects mentioned in or relevant to the book
  • Study guides
  • Chapter summaries

There are, however, some things Amazon doesn’t consider unique, such as:

  • Formatting improvement
  • Clickable table of contents
  • Freely available or plagiarised Internet content (Non-original diagrams, illustrations, etc.)
  • Adding interactive content/elements (more on this point in the next section).

2. Include Interactive Elements

One of the best ways to make a public domain book unique and attract more readers is to add interactive content. From simple links, audio files, or videos to more advanced interactive ebook apps, the possibilities are endless.

For example, if you decide to publish a public-domain historical novel, you can add maps that show where the events of the story take place. Or you can choose to republish a Dr. Seuss book and add animations and music to it.

Important read: How to Create an Interactive Ebook: A Step-by-Step Guide

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3. Ensure It’s Well Formated

You should cross-check your book’s texts to ensure that the formatting is right. You can use ebook editing software or tools or do this yourself, or you can use a formatting service. If you choose to do it yourself, ensure that:

  • Paragraph indentations and line spacing are consistent.
  • Chapter titles are formatted.
  • You include the front and back matter.
  • The margins, headings, and page breaks are in the right place.
  • You’ve inserted hyperlinks in the correct places.
  • There aren’t any spelling or grammatical mistakes.
  • Your table of contents is correctly formatted.

4. Create a Distinctive Ebook Cover

Your ebook cover is one of the ebook’s first selling points and it can make your book stand out from other versions of the book. In order to create an outstanding cover, you can either hire someone to design it or you can do it yourself if you have some design skills. You can use software like Photoshop or Canva to design the cover if you decide to do it yourself. You can also purchase covers from Damonza or eBook Launch.

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5. Add Final Touches

Before you publish your ebook, you’ll need to write a captivating description for your potential customers, choose the book’s category and keywords, then set a reasonable price. Furthermore, you need to choose an appropriate format for your ebook, which we’ll cover in the next step.

6. Choose the Right File Format

The format you choose for your ebook depends on many factors, such as where you want to publish it, whether it’s static or interactive, and the devices the book will be read on. Most publishing platforms accept the Epub format, as it allows for static and interactive content and can also be viewed on most devices. If you aren’t sure which format works best for your needs, you can use Kotobee’s consultation service to speak with an ebook expert who’ll guide you along the way.

You can understand more about ebook formats by reading this article: Ebook Formats Explained for Beginners.

7. Publish Your Public Domain Book

Here comes the last step, publishing your public domain book. The process is just like publishing a regular ebook, except when it comes to the copyrights part. On some platforms, you’ll find these options:

  • I own the copyright and I hold the necessary publishing rights: Select this option if your book is copyrighted and you own the rights to the content being published.
  • This is a public domain work: If you’re releasing a book in the public domain, select this option. Remember that different nations or areas have different copyright durations.

Since it’s a public domain book, you pick “This is a public domain work”.

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Where Can You Sell Public Domain Books?

You can publish public domain books on your own website, or you can go the self-publishing route and choose from one of the many digital publishing platforms. It just has to meet their required standards. Here are a few examples of these platforms:

There may be other platforms that allow publishing public domain books; just make sure to read their policies carefully before you proceed.

Can You Place a Copyright on Your Content When Publishing a Public Domain Book?

Yes, you can place copyrights on your unique public domain book. However, it doesn’t cover previously published content; it only covers your original content/input.


Although public domain books aren’t seen as exceptionally lucrative, their publication provides writers with a fascinating new route. As an author or a publisher, you realize that the bulk of the creative work has been taken off you, and you’re left with only the polishing. And if you do it right, you’ll find that there is a decent amount of money there as your refurbished book will grab people’s attention.



Can I make money selling public domain books? ›

Can You Profit from Public Domain? The whole purpose of repurposing previously copyrighted material is to earn additional income. When selling public domain books, you can indeed create a steady stream of passive income, as long as you have made an effort to create a quality product that provides value to the customer.

What is public domain books? ›

A public domain book is one that is not covered by intellectual property rights or copyright, usually because the rights have expired. Once a book enters public domain, it can be reprinted and distributed without the need to get permission from the original author.

How do books get into public domain? ›

Books published before 1923, or before Jan. 1, 1964 and not renewed (in the 28th year after publication), are out of copyright and therefore in the public domain. In other words don't just pick up a book off the shelf and decide you can reuse or republish it for free, just because you think it is an old book.

Does public domain mean I can sell it? ›

If an image is in the public domain, anyone can use the given work without permission or paying a fee and in any way they want, including making any modifications, creating derivative works, or using it for commercial purposes and making profit.

Can you buy public domains? ›

The term “public domain” refers to creative materials that are not protected by intellectual property laws such as copyright, trademark, or patent laws. The public owns these works, not an individual author or artist. Anyone can use a public domain work without obtaining permission, but no one can ever own it.

How long does it take to become public domain? ›

After March 1, 1989, all works (published and unpublished) are protected for 70 years from the date the author dies. So, for example, the unpublished works of an author who died in 1943 are in the public domain as of January 1, 2014.

How long does it take for a book to be public domain? ›

In the United States, all materials published before 1928 are in the public domain as of 2023. * Each January 1, the literature, movies, music scores, and other works released 95 years earlier will enter the public domain.

How do I know if a book is public domain? ›

For books published after 1975, you can visit http://cocatalog.loc.gov. You enter an author or title and see the registration number and the year that the copyright was registered. For older works, you can contact the Library of Congress directly and either pay them to do a search for you or do the search for yourself.

Can I record myself reading a book and sell it? ›

Contact the author and ask for permission. Many authors will see it as free publicity and probably give you permission if it's non profit. If you are making profit from it, you will probably be asked to pay something, but who knows? Yes, you need that permission.

How to get free public domain books? ›

Books & Texts
  1. Google Books Search (Prior to 1927) ...
  2. Project Gutenberg. ...
  3. Authorama Public Domain Books. ...
  4. Hathi Trust Digital Library. ...
  5. Bartleby.com.
  6. Internet Archive Ebooks and Texts. ...
  7. Wikipedia Guide to Public Domain Resources. ...
  8. GOVInfo: U.S. Government Documents.

Will Mickey Mouse be public domain? ›

In truth, the earliest version of Mickey Mouse, which first appeared in the 1928 landmark animated short Steamboat Willie, will be entering the public domain when the film's copyright expires in 2024.

Can you make money off of public domain characters? ›

Yes, you can sell copies of a public domain work. Public domain works are those that are no longer protected by copyright, which means that anyone can use, reproduce, or sell them without permission.

Can you sell audiobooks of public domain books? ›

Is it legal to sell annotated or audio versions of published works in the public domain? Yes, it's legal to sell public domain works. You can add annotation, create an audio version, change the text, or anything you'd like.


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