Free books are everywhere – the Internet is your friend!
Hi! I’m GL, and I’m a bibliophile. I used to have a two-books-a-week habit: I used to scoop up free books off sidewalks, from garage sales, and from the “free books” shelves on my college campus. At one point, when it was time for me to move from Reno to Las Vegas, I realized I couldn’t take my 1,000+ books with me, and it kind of broke my heart right then and there.
I ended up making a huge donation to a local thrift store, and I’ve been a much smarter book hoarder ever since then. More importantly, I found different ways to get my fix for free, and without over-cluttering my living space. (I’ve moved dozens of times: at this point, my Amazon address book is a forensic investigator’s nightmare.)
First things first: if you loathe the very notion of e-books, I’m not sure this post will help you much. Right now, e-books take up about half of the total book market, and while there’s still space for traditional paper books (especially if we’re dealing with charts or diagrams or medical texts), most of these free books hacks are for the digital crowd. Note that you don’t have to purchase a Kindle: these days, any device with a screen can be used to read e-books: your phone, PC, Mac, laptop, etc. Here is where you can find them..
Your local library. This should be advertised everywhere, and 24/7, because a lot of people don’t realize that their taxes entitle them to a huge range of free books. If your library is closed due to the pandemic, or your schedule won’t allow you to make it out to your local branch, that’s where e-books come in. As long as you have your library card and remember your PIN, you can log onto the library’s site and see what’s available to borrow. It’s not just paper books and e-books: audiobooks are up for grabs as well, if that’s what you’re into. (Personally, I prefer e-books, if only because you can’t highlight a beautiful quote in an audiobook.)
You might not be able to get your hands on the latest and greatest book releases (you’d have to get in line for those), but there are so many other books that aren’t brand new and that are just waiting to be borrowed and devoured. The best part? It’s all free!
NetGalley. NetGalley is an interesting site: it connects ambitious authors and voracious readers. You get to request and read different free books before they get published, but you’ll have to review them in exchange. The reviews don’t have to be glowing 5-star compliments – just be sincere and honest. You can post a review on the book’s Amazon page, on your blog, on Goodreads, etc. Some of the authors are famous, while some are self-published. Not every request gets approved: your odds will depend on your prior performance. If you’re a brand new user, you probably won’t get that much-anticipated fancy novel. However, if your account is sufficiently old and if you’ve reviewed most (or all!) of the books you’ve checked out, your odds will get a lot better.
Personally, I used NetGalley quite a lot a few years ago, until I hit a few undigestible books in a row and the whole thing started to feel like a bad chore. Do give it a shot, though – chances are, you’ll like what you see!
Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg is one of the Internet’s success stories, right up there with Wikipedia and Reddit. Named after Johannes Gutenberg, whose movable printing press changed the western civilization forever, this site is a collection of over 60,000 digitized books that are in the public domain. (As of 2021, that means every book published in 1925 or earlier.) You can find fairly well known books such as the Great Gatsby, all the works of Mark Twain, everything ever written by Jules Verne, etc. You can also read far less known (but equally fascinating) texts by old-timey writers, philosophers, and explorers.
Project Gutenberg is also great for assembling your own projects that borrow heavily from the public domain. That was how I compiled my own e-books, Legends & Lore from Around the World and 50 Shades of Yay: Great Thinkers on Happiness. In a way, you can get an entire classic education just by reading the key foundational texts, be it Socrates, Aristotle, Machiavelli, or any other great pre-1926 thinker. Dig in and see what you can find!
Free Amazon e-books. Last but definitely not least, there are all the free e-books on Amazon. Some of them are made free because their authors are running a temporary promotional giveaway. Other times, the authors decide to make them free forever in order to drum up enough fans for their other, paid e-books. Whatever the case, there are thousands of interesting e-books to choose from. Not all of them are top-notch 5-star product, but there are quite a few diamonds in the rough.
To find them, go over yonder and keep on scrolling down to find something you like. On the left sidebar, you can narrow down your selections by language, writer, rating (i.e. 4+ stars), etc. If the link I posted stops working, all you need to do is go to the main e-book selection page, pick any genre, and click “See all results.”
A word of caution: Amazon is tricky and wily. There are two separate subscription programs called Kindle Unlimited and Comixology Unlimited. I recommend avoiding them. Kindle Unlimited gives you access to a lot of non-free e-books for $10 a month: that sounds like a great deal, and it might be – if you want to binge-read an Amazon-exclusive author’s series. Beyond that, though, you’ll end up paying $120 a year to read the same kinds of e-books you can find for free elsewhere.
Comixology Unlimited is, to put it very mildly, a scam. It’s $6 a month, but it is not, in fact, unlimited. You can start reading a comic book series (such as, say, The Walking Dead), get into it, and hit the brick wall 1/3 of the way through. As soon as you’re hooked, Comixology Unlimited will ask you to pay extra for the rest of the comic books, which will cost you over $100 in some cases. Perhaps my dictionary is broken, but that is not what the word “Unlimited” implies to me. Avoid that $72/year false advertising at all costs: your local library has lots of free books, and that also includes free comic books. The very fact that Comixology Unlimited has gotten away with that long-running false advertising scam for so long just goes to show you how little leverage comic book fans have, eh?
I hope this advice has been helpful! Are there any other sources of free books you know and love and use and recommend? Sound off in the comments and let me know!