A collection of possibly useful links:
www.gutenberg.net – Free, in the public domain books. Lots of older books like the Wizard of Oz and some more modern books; it’s mostly only sci-fi publishers are releasing their books into the public domain. http://worldebooklibrary.net/ also distributes these (same) books in .pdf format, but gives you the chance to pay.
Maybe you could try negotiating with one of the services for libraries, such as: http://www.overdrive.com/ or http://www.exacteditions.com/. Basically, after the institution pays, these sites generally allow the members of the institution (numbering in the hundreds of thousands) to read books.
And also on the topic of libraries, you can try a public library. Taipei library has a few different types of ebook collections: http://www.tpml.edu.tw/TaipeiPublicLibrary/index.php?subsite=english&page=english-eresource-index.php
I was also paying for questia.com but the selection is big but oriented towards nonfiction.
www.oreilly.com – It really depends on the type of books that you’re looking at. For computer/tech books, uses the epub format, which might not be so hard to use, since it’s basically just a kind of html with divisions for chapters, etc. Kate did Traditional Chinese translation for their epub reader, but for some reason they haven’t posted that version yet…
Mostly tech books: safaribooksonline.com
For kids: http://www.benchmarkeducation.com/ebookroom
The trouble is you might have problems of scale. You can pay for 10 or 100 books, but if your experiment is on free-choice, that’s not much of a choice. So that’s why I might suggest that you use something like wikipedia or a particular popular online e-magazine as the source. There’s so much to choose from and it’s free~
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