Free Google Books Ends Downloads

Seventh Update, Tuesday March 13, 2012: Free Google Books Downloads Work Again

Sixth Update, Tuesday March 13, 2012: According to a Commenter below, who spoke to Google via phone:

I received two follow-up emails as well, the last saying “Our engineering team has identified the problem and are working to resolve it quickly. While I cannot offer you an exact timeframe as to when it will be fixed, I will email you as soon as I have an update.”

It must be some catastrophic screw-up for it to take this long to fix. As of ~8:30AM EDST, I am getting Whale Fail when I am past the CAPTCHA for a PDF download. Since so many people are coming to this blog for this post, I am going to make a separate Sticky.

Fifth Update, Monday March 12, 2012: According to a Comment below:

Just got off the phone with Google. They are aware of the issue and are working to fix it. And they confirmed that it is just an error — there are no plans to disable pdf downloads of public domain works. Good to know!

I hope that is true and it is fixed soon. This post has been gaining in popularity as others come across the problem. It seems I am the only one to post about it.

Fourth Update, Monday March 12, 2012: Google’s transition to Play has been a disaster for PDF downloads both at Play and at Google Books. Play seems to still offer PDF downloads — even the Help Center acknowledges PDF-formatted books cannot be read offline in a browser and must be downloaded! — but they are broken, just as in Google Books, with ~34K weird non-PDF files that download.

Third Update, Saturday March 10, 2012: Google Books is currently totally FUBARed. What I thought were PDF downloads turned out not to be. I didn’t check until a Commenter mentioned what he was getting. Let’s hope Google fixes this by next week. Or explains just what the hell is going on.

Second Update, Saturday March 10, 2012: This glitch hasn’t been totally resolved. Out of twenty books I’ve had on a shelf for downloading, only three worked. The rest got the Whale Fail message.

Update, Saturday March 10, 2012: Less than 24 hours later, PDF downloads work again. This might have been a temporary glitch due to the Google Play effort. However, I’m not embarrassed to be seen as absolutely wrong about this — because I want Google to understand that I am watching Google Books.

I’m waiting for someone at the near-dead Google Books Twitter account to reply (this might be a futile effort!) but right now what I’m experiencing at the public domain Google Books is not good. And I think I know Google well enough to make this post’s headline a flat statement and not a question.

Search for any book via a single keyword (try “success”), get a list of results, restrict list to public domain books, choose a book (try Success: A Novel, the PDF I use for tests), choose Download PDF, enter CAPTCHA (properly!), and I keep getting this:

That is not how it’s supposed to be!

When Google consolidated and rebranded parts of its commercial digital goods enterprises to Google Play earlier this week, it stated that books would be Cloud-based.

But that should not apply to Google Books — distinct from the commercial Google eBookstore — which was created as a joint project with public libraries.

I’ve been a one-man army against the parasites of the public domain, downloading public domain books before they were DMCAed away by those who grabbed them to re-Copyright them. I have several thousand such books that will remain free, despite any court decisions and private actions (such as this, this, and this) that permit otherwise.

But now, with public domain books seemingly all being Cloud-based, we are all at the mercy of the public domain parasites who will DMCA them away without Google putting up any fight on behalf of the public domain.

Let me make this clear: By having these books all Cloud-based, it will be just about impossible now to do posts of historic value due to the inability to properly capture images from them.

Here’s an example of some I did earlier this year:

Selling Mark Twain In 1917
Rare Napoleon Hill Writings: January 1917
Rare Napoleon Hill Writings: February 1918
Rare Napoleon Hill Writings: June-July 1918
Rare Napoleon Hill Writings: August-September 1915
Rare Napoleon Hill Writings: January 1920
Rare Napoleon Hill Writings: January 1921
Rare Napoleon Hill Writings: November 1921
Book Publishing: This Isn’t 1922 Any Longer
1922: How To Market Reading And Books
1922: How To Market Reading And Books, Part Two
1922: Crime Fiction Popular Then Too

The images in them were possible only because I could download the PDF version and extract the actual scanned page for publication.

That’s just not at all possible by trying to screensnap a Cloud-based book.

I’ve used Google Books for so long, I can recall when there was no CAPTCHA used. You could go in and download book after book without any interruption. Then Google added some limits claiming people were abusing the service by using scripts. Then they instituted CAPTCHAs. Then they piled on additional time limits where — even with CAPTCHAs — if you downloaded X number of books within Y minutes, your account could be locked down for a few hours up to a whopping 24-72 hours (this actually happened to me more than once).

And now this!

Am I the only person to see that Google has now claimed virtual ownership of every book it has scanned?

This is not right. These books came from public libraries and belong to all of us. Google’s purpose for scanning them was to enhance its mission to index information — not to own it.

The free download portion of Google Books must be restored.

If it isn’t, Google is guilty of the biggest book theft in the history of mankind.


Filed under eBooks: General, Friction, Google, Stupid

52 responses to “Free Google Books Ends Downloads

  1. Ravi

    Hopefully it is just a glitch in the Google Play transition. The timing suggests that, plus the fact that most of the download flow is still there. Have you tried manually hacking the URL to another possible location?

    The non-ownership depressing possibility is that Google is taking steps to limit their liability / improve their side of the case in the various Google Books lawsuits.

    • mikecane

      I would like to think it’s a glitch, but with the Google-branded iRiver Story HD eBook device being blown out for $49 in stores, that tells me that Google is going to make everything — as they say — Cloud-based via their apps.

      And I didn’t put this in the post because I couldn’t reproduce it, but somehow I wound up at a Google Play page for a public domain book and the sole option was to read it online, without any download options.

  2. As you know, Google locked down Google Books to non-US users a long time ago. Now it sounds like they’re locking it down in the US too. At least you managed to save something before they shut the door.

    • mikecane

      That’s not good enough. Due to space limitations, I wasn’t able to grab everything I wanted. I have a very, very, very long list of books on a private shelf that still needed to be downloaded. If those are now gone for good, my screaming will be radioactive.

      • I know. I’m still working on the second post relating to the French unavailable works legislation and the parallels there are striking.

  3. I got a broken download for Success: A Novel as a PDF, then it couldn’t find the page on the second attempt.

    But the Epub downloaded just fine.

  4. RK

    >Am I the only person to see that Google has now claimed virtual >ownership of every book it has scanned?

    Are they under any legal obligation to make their copies publicly available?

    • mikecane

      I know that part of the agreement they had with ;libraries was screwy. They’d scan the books then *charge* the libraries for access!

  5. Still working for me…

    • mikecane

      I just checked right now. Apparently it was a glitch. Success: A Novel now downloads the PDF. I will update the post.

  6. rich

    With the launch of Google Play, it appears that books will be available through the cloud, but not as downloads anymore.

  7. AdamChew


    I am with you on this that is the evil of google.


    Didn’t they said they are open and behave like father Christmas with the goodie bag or they are just behaving like hypocrite say one thing but meant another.

  8. Generally, when Google isn’t making a book available for download, it simply omits “Download PDF” from the menu. Since the option is still there for the books I checked just now, and since these downloads worked when I tried them few days ago, I’m inclined to assume this is a temporary glitch. But we’ll see what happens in the next few days.

    Many public domain books scanned by Google are also available from the Internet Archive, which offers full downloads.

  9. Mr. Flibble

    I’ve been unable to download anything for the last two days, they all end up as broken ~35k PDFs. I’ve tried many different books in three different browsers, even Chrome. You’re the only post or notice that I’ve found about this. Wish they’d either fix it or make an official post about the cause.

    • mikecane

      I think it’s a glitch that they will fix. But they don’t tend to give Google Books priority, since it’s not seen as sexy or contributing to income. The only priority it seems to get is to make it more and more difficult to use and download from.

      • Mr. Flibble

        I was getting the “fail whale” thing the first day sporadically but it would still eventually work. Now I enter the captcha and it always instantly completes a ~35k download. Opening the file, I see that the PDF header info is correct and varies from book to book that I try, referencing the book’s ID (the ‘z7K2AAAAIAAJ’ stuff). I’ve tried dozens now and none ever work. If you got 3 of 20 to go through I’d say you’re lucky.

      • mikecane

        OMG. I just looked at my downloads. They’re the ~35Ks just like yours! Time for a third post update!

  10. Still getting whale-fail at 6pm EST Saturday; something’s definitely messed up.

    I was getting valid PDFs (not the truncated 35k files) earlier this week; I uploaded one or two for reposting on the Internet Archive. (Which, once PDF downloading is working again, I suggest doing for Google PDFs you care about that aren’t already there, as an insurance against future Google problems.)

  11. Cera

    I’m glad you posted about this; I had a bunch of stuff queued up which I finally downloaded tonight and also got the 35k broken files.

  12. matt

    Having the same problem here, still, in Philadelphia at 2am (3am?) EST.

    • mikecane

      As of Sunday 3/11 at 11:20AM, the problem still exists. Success: A Novel comes down as a 33.8K “PDF” that no PDF program can open.

  13. David

    US Pacific Coast (GMT -8) 3:30 am, Mar 12, 2010. Cannot download any “free” Google ebooks in PDF. Earlier today or yesterday received tiny, damaged PDFs, as already mentioned by others. Now receiving nothing but image, “Whale Fail. Google Books is having trouble finding that page” for every attempted download after entering captcha.

  14. David

    It’s not a glitch. It’s Google’s new policy with Google Play. Go to Google Play. All the old public domain free ebooks are there, but no more PDF downloads. If the images are scanned you cannot make marginal notes. Whether scanned or OCR, no more cutting and pasting. No more printing. It means reading every f**cking book on a LCD screen or going back to a library and photocopying and scanning the book for yourself.

    For years I have been downloading PDF public domain (US) free Google ebooks for personal historical research. I CANNOT DOWNLOAD PDFs ANYMORE?! I like to rearrange some of the pages, make marginal notes, cut and paste, or a number of other research techniques I CANNOT do browsing scanned images online. Printing pages out helps me bring them closer to my eyes. I don’t want to read everything on a LCD screen, even enlarged. None of these books can be printed. This is a disaster. The very technology that made so many historic books available is now preventing me from customizing my reading and research personal experience.

    • gg

      For the images you can go full screen and “printscreen” then PS it. The quality is good indeed.

      • mikecane

        Not if I want an entire page. My own screen is crap, basically a sideways iPad in res: 768 high and 1024 wide. I tried shrinking with Fox for full page and it just doesn’t compare with being able to extract a PDF page for posting with the free PDF Xchange software..

  15. David
    Recent events at Google Books demonstrate why some people are reluctant to entrust too much of the world’s information to Google servers. Users of Google Books are now reporting that they can no longer download PDF files; the system either says it can’t find the requested file, or what does get downloaded is rejected by the user’s software as unreadable.

    So far Google’s only response (at least that I can find) is that users may be trying to download a file that is not available for full view; but in fact the files in question are explicitly listed as available and can still be viewed in full if you read them online. They just can’t be downloaded as PDFs anymore.

    None of this was a problem a few days ago, which suggests that Google’s migration of Google Books to the new “Google Play” platform may have something to do with it. In any case, those who have come to rely on Google Books are now forced to wait and see whether Google will admit they broke something and fix it, or if this will become the new normal.

    Either way, it showcases one of the major problems with all this: Google is accountable to no one and can therefore do as it pleases with all the data they’ve been accumulating, whether scans of library books or information extracted from your personal email. Having made the world dependent on its services, Google can now withdraw those services at will, or start charging for them, or do anything else with them that it chooses to do, and there’s very little that the rest of us can do about it.

  16. David

    There does appear to be PDF download button under the “How to Read” tab for each free book, but none of them work at this time. So hopefully I was wrong and this feature is not being discontinued. Why Google couldn’t have prepared people when them implemented Google Play is beyond me.

    • mikecane

      There is NO download PDF button for Success: A Novel. Digging deeper, it looks like PDFs are screwed for offline reading too, although now I must close Firefox and try Chrome to confirm this. And do we all really want GOOGLE knowing WHAT we are reading WHEN we are reading it?

      UPDATE: OK, now I see the Download PDF link. And as you say, it does not work. As of Monday, March 12 8:35AM EDST. I’ve again asked GBooks — and Google AND GoogleMobile this time — on Twitter when PDF downloads will be fixed. Now I have to believe that this is a glitch because they mention in the Help Center that it’s not possible to view PDF-formatted books in the browser offline.

  17. gg you can find almost all google books in pdf. Just go to the bottom “all files http” in all the formats you want.

    • Mr. Flibble

      They have a bunch from years ago, most of them say “uploaded by user tpb” or something like that. There has not been a mass Google books upload to in a long time, however. It’s more luck than deliberate effort that they’ll have something from Google that you’re after. That being said, there are books imaged by that Google does NOT have, and they are often scanned better as well.

  18. matt

    Just got off the phone with Google. They are aware of the issue and are working to fix it. And they confirmed that it is just an error – there are no plans to disable pdf downloads of public domain works. Good to know!

    • Mr. Flibble

      Someone who talked to an actual person at Google! You should be studied and your methods analyzed.

      • matt

        Well, as frustrating as it is that the “contact us” page on Google Books is an endless loop.. there is actually a way to talk to someone on the phone on the Google Play support page. A pleasant surprise.

        I received two follow-up emails as well, the last saying “Our engineering team has identified the problem and are working to resolve it quickly. While I cannot offer you an exact timeframe as to when it will be fixed, I will email you as soon as I have an update.”

  19. Owen Berio

    Just spent two days messing with two computers using different software believing that the Whale and associated error message was somehow my problem.
    I frequently need and download very old historical public domain documents. Today I actually feel dislike towards Google. They should fix or remove the pdf download button.

  20. David

    When viewing on the internet, thumbnails of all pages don’t seem to be an option, if you are quickly looking for illustrations. The new books interface exists solely to integrate Google Books into Google Play, but it’s awkward and doesn’t seem to have all of the same features, let alone even work at this time. Everything with Google Books is being discontinued. The Google discussion forum specific for Google Books ceased on March 6 when Google Play started. Google doesn’t seem to understand how people use Google Books and how inadequate the new interface is compared to the old one.

    • mikecane

      I despise the Google Play interface and they had better not discontinue Google Books because my screams will be nuclear. I have lots of shelves at Google Books for different purposes. I get none of those at Google Play, except one stupid one devoted to Google Play — and I have no real idea how that even got populated. Google Books is for an entirely different audience.

  21. denis

    I`m currently using Google Books Downloader to download pdf files
    from Google Books. It is much slower than just downloading , but , I think at least for now , this is the only way to get Google pdf files .

  22. Mr. Flibble

    As of 1:30 PM my time today, they appear to be working again. Thanks to Mike for this blog post and the other posters, especially Matt, for for keeping us all informed!

    • mikecane

      As of 3:46PM EDST, Tuesday 3/13, it is still not working for me, so I’m not updating my Sticky post to say otherwise.

      • Mr. Flibble

        Hmm, yeah some still aren’t. A couple I had tried repeatedly before did at last work. Another I just tried now, however, did not. Very frustrating.

      • mikecane

        Sorry and also glad it still doesn’t work. At least I’m not missing out and wasn’t being singled out. Ha!

  23. Matt

    Works for me now – checked after getting an email from someone at Google saying it had been resolved. Now to download everything I think I might possibly ever need…

  24. Cera

    Mine are all working now, although with one of them I had to try twice in succession before it worked.

  25. Rick

    I just tried it (3/15/2012 02:42 PDT) and while the ePub worked fine; the PDF is 18k of FUBAR…
    Success: a novel – Samuel Hopkins Adams – Google Books(function(){function a(c){this.t={};this.tick=function(c,e,b){b=void 0!=b?b:(new Date).getTime();this.t[c]=[b,e]};this.tick(“start”,null,c)}var d=new a;window.jstiming={Timer:a,load:d};try{var f=null;;null==f&&window.gtbExternal&&(f=window.gtbExternal.pageT());null==f&&window.external&&(f=window.external.pageT);f&&(}catch(g){};})();
    <link rel="image_src" href="
    not even close to a PDF file from what i know

    • mikecane

      Thursday, 3/15, 6:20AM EDST. I tried Success: A Novel from the link you posted here. I got the full PDF file just fine.

  26. ase

    Kinda of sad….free things must come to an end. I switched my e-reader a while back to Project Gutenberg.

    I’m not real keen on “Google Play”. I think Market or Store would have been better words to use.

  27. Tom

    Do you have an update for this problem? I see from my own records that I was successfully able to download a public domain book from Google Books in July 2013 (so perhaps back in 2012 it was just a glitch), but I’ve been trying again now, and simply can’t do it — everything just goes to Google Play. I’m not seeing a “download pdf” option anywhere along the way for “free” public domain eBooks.

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