I’ve been reading a lot of free ebooks lately, which means I’m developing a finely honed skill: Where to find the good (legal) ones. Rather than keeping this vital information all to myself and cackling quietly with glee over my loot, I thought I ought to be nice and share. Because I like sharing almost as much as I like reading.
I read on my iPad, which opens up considerable flexibility for me because I can handle a range of formats. Those of you with proprietary devices, like say Kindles, may have varying degrees of success, although there are ways and means for converting to make different formats readable. I do not know these ways and means because I am technically inept, but I bet someone in comments will if you are interested in knowing more.
The following assortment of sources is by no means complete, and I welcome your additions in comments; consider it your starting ground in the hunt for more reading material in your life.
Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble offer a variety of free books in their online stores; it’s a mix of public domain books, special offers from publishers, and self-published books. Formatting quality can vary widely; self-published books in particular can have really appalling formatting that makes them basically unreadable, and I’ve learned to pay very close attention to reviews noting formatting problems.
I would also note that promotional phrases like “professionally edited!” “new edition with fewer errors!” and “my mother really liked my book!” are warning signs. Also look out for favorable reviews posted on or around the same date using similar language, because sockpuppets in online reviews are a thing that happens.
But it’s not all about the big box books; I buy independent when I buy books, and I prefer to support my local independent even when I’m getting free books, if I can. Numerous independent bookstores in the US have an agreement with Google Books, allowing them to sell books through their websites. It’s important, however, to go to the bookstore’s website and use their store interface, not to go through the Google Books main site, because otherwise your bookstore doesn’t get credited. Similar options may be available outside the US as well -- I’d love to hear from the international commentariat!
Book blogs can be a treasure trove of free books, although it requires more patient hunting. Sites like Smart Bitches, Trashy Books offer not just reviews to help you decide if you even want a book in the first place, but also giveaways on occasion. If there’s a specific genre you’re interested in, there will be one or more book blogs you can use as a resource for delicious and free books, trust me. I also highly recommend following blogs and authors on Twitter, because they host giveaways there too.
Plus, you get to have experiences like “HOLY CRAP JAY ASHER JUST RETWEETED ME.”
Likewise, Goodreads regularly offers book giveaways through authors, publishers, and others. Assuming that you don’t have a completely derelict account, like me, because surely you develop social media fatigue less quickly than I, gentle reader!
Public Domain Books
The top of the heap here is Project Gutenberg, of course. Most sites offering public domain books are using material from Project Gutenberg, because why do the same work twice? They have a stellar collection that’s growing all the time. Feedbooks offers a mix of public domain books including material from Project Gutenberg as well as new titles released in the public domain (along with self-published books and new conventional titles).
But there are also some other gems, like the British Library 19th Century Collection (only available for iPad, sadly). Which, seriously, if you love esoteric 19th-century books...
I know self publishing is a hot button issue these days, but I think it’s safe to say that the trend is here to stay, so we might as well take advantage of it while we can. Sites like Lulu and Smashwords have a range of free titles, some of which are rather spectacular (some of which are also really, really bad -- but that’s not a problem limited to self-published titles, yeah?). After some practice, you can get pretty good at identifying the keywords that mean a book is likely to appeal to you or be a turnoff.
I figure a free book is a pretty minimal investment. I can start reading and if I’m not interested after the first few pages, I can stop. This is a marked contrast from buying an $18 trade paperback and being incensed that I can’t throw it against the wall because it’s too expensive to waste like that. And then glaring at it as it sits smugly on my shelf, satisfied that it duped me into paying the cover price because I thought it was going to be good.
Publishers hand out free books too, if you know where to go. It’s not like there’s a giant sign on the Penguin front page saying “Free books this way!,” usually, but it is possible to find publisher giveaways. Freebies can sometimes be found on individual book websites, usually in the form of a giveaway contest for a few lucky would-be readers. Other publishers have set up free book distribution to encourage readers to get hooked -- Try Harlequin is a good example. The Baen Free Library is also awesome if you like science fiction and fantasy, and you can also get the complete Vorkosigan Saga for free! Wowza! Am I right?!
Be alert for “samplers” that include only the first few chapters or selections of writing from several authors. While these may be excellent promotional tools that get people to buy books because they have an urgent need to know what happens next, they are not books.
I know I missed your favorite free ebook source...so what is it?