Okay, now that you’ve probably got several downloads in progress (believe me, I did the same thing), let me continue. Personally, I think this ought to be the new model for academic publishing. After all, as one commenter here pointed out, “Our works are too obscure to charge money for them, at least after a few years when their usefulness has increased but demand decreased.” So true. And we scholars want our works to be read, don’t we? And to be built upon. Too many useful works sink into total obscurity once they go out of print. Sure, you can still find the odd copy now and then, mostly through antiquarian booksellers, online and off — but we’re scholars, not rare book dealers; how many of us have the budget to pick up a personal copy of everything we need? And sure, there are often (though not always) library copies available, but this kind of book is usually non-circulating. How much better to be able to conduct our research in the comfort of our own homes? (They tend to frown on coffee, scones and jam, and carelessly-belted bathrobes in the reading rooms of special collections. What? That’s how I do my research! Don’t you? ;)
The Viking Society will continue to sell “hardcopies” of books currently in print, and they reserve the right to wait five years from the publication of new books to make them available online. Both are perfectly reasonable limitations. Also bear in mind that many more recent works are still protected by copyright. Just because they’re made available to scholars here at no charge doesn’t grant anybody license to redistribute the files, print them out and sell them, reissue them via print-on-demand, or any other careless thing. I hope it goes without saying we shouldn’t abuse the Viking Society’s generosity. :)
Anyway, I won’t post a laundry list of all the many goodies available now (with more on the way), but suffice to say that the first thing I downloaded was Christopher Tolkien’s facing-page edition and translation of The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise, published in 1960. I had been looking to add this to my collection for years! I’ve come across copies now and then, but I always shied away from the price tag (usually in the neighborhood of $200 USD). It just goes to show you: patience is usually rewarded. I still want a hardcopy for my library, but until I can get one at a price I can afford, it’s wonderful to have the work available for research.