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Seven Profitable Ways to Use the Public Domain

Steven Chabotte

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When it comes to the types of public domain projects you can create, the limit is really your imagination. Lets look at seven different ways you can use public domain materials to build an income stream.

  1. You can republish a public domain books as is. You can either physically print it or offer it in
    electronic format. If you offer the book in electronic format, packaging it as a PDF file - like this course - is the best way to go.

    If you choose to offer a printed book, you have a few options. You can print it yourself on demand and use inexpensive binding equipment (spiral binding) that you can buy from any office supply store to make a professional looking book.

    You can go to a local printer and do very short runs of the book. They will even do the binding for you. It will typically be spiral bound at such low volume runs as it is quite cost effective when producing a few dozen at a time.

    You can approach a specialty printing company and get a larger quantity printed in any type of binding you want. This is the most cost effective way but you have to be ready to purchase and inventory a large number of books to make it worthwhile. The last time we did this, the efficiency point was 1000 books but this was back in 1995 and there are more options available nowadays.

  2. Audiobooks - Did you know that there is a website that has public domain audiobooks that you can download and use as you wish? In fact, as of June 2008, they reached 1,500 books in their catalog of audiobook downloads. There is no cost to use this amazing service. You can learn more about this project at Also, don't think you are limited to what is on the Librivox site. Any book in the public domain can be turned into an audio version, packaged and sold to interested customers.

  3. Stock photograph collections - Creative people of all types are always looking for additional royalty free stock photo collections that they can use for projects. With literally millions of photographs in the public domain, you could gather themed groups of photographs and offer them as stock photograph collections to interested customers. You could package these in a variety of ways. The simplest way is to put them on CDs or DVDs and sell them in that format. But you could also offer a digital download site where people pay for each photograph that they download or a membership site where they pay a one time or monthly fee to access all the photographs in the collection.

  4. Clip art collections - Clip art is basically line art or simple drawings. As with the stock photograph collections above, clip art collections are very popular and can be delivered in a variety of ways.

    A great example of using public domain clip art (or really any public domain material) in printed books is Dover Publications. They have a huge catalog of books - republished public domain works and compilations of public domain materials.

  5. Prints/Posters/Maps - Prints is a very large area of the public domain and with modern printing equipment, you can actually run a highly profitable print shop in your house.

    Prints can come in all sizes - anything from postcard size to huge posters - and can be offered on a variety of papers and materials - even canvas.

    So what can be printed? The list is almost endless. You could print civil war photographs, old maps NASA space mission images, Military images, fine art posters. You can even combine elements of images and build your own unique images for printing - like a series of motivational posters with moving scenes and motivational quotes blazoned across the top of the poster.

  6. Calendars - Every year people buy millions of calendars about a huge variety of topics. Why not take some of the public domain photos or artwork you have access to and design and sell a calendar to a specific niche? For instance, you could make a WWII D-Day calendar with photos of events related to D-Day with descriptive captions below it. Or a generic WWII calendar with the photos and captions of the most famous events of WWII and short historical blurbs in the various date boxes highlighting important days in the war?
  7. Cards - There are a variety of cards that can be made of public domain images. These include postcards, playing cards, flash cards, sports cards, etc.

    The key to success in the card business is again to theme the cards to an interest that you identified. For instance, the Library of Congress has a great collection of baseball cards from around 1900 online. An enterprising person could use them to make decks of playing cards and market them during baseball season. Lots of folks who like baseball play cards and would be thrilled to have such a unique pack of cards to enjoy while playing their game.

    Or maybe you could republish the cards as a limited collectors set. Or use them as the basis of an early baseball trivia game. Or a set of postcards. As you can see, there are a number of ways you can use cards with public domain images to make interesting products.

Take action now!
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