If you’re a voracious reader who’s just gone digital, you must be loving the convenience of having all your books on you at any time, along with the extra features such as search, definitions, and highlights..
Whether you’re using an e-reader like the Kindle or you’re reading books on your phone or tablet, there are a lot of things to love, most of all the fact that it has also become incredibly simple to buy the books you want to read. Devices and apps all come with their own marketplaces, and it’s pretty easy to rack up a big bill quickly.
But there are plenty of places where you can get great books without spending a single rupee – and we’re not suggesting that you pirate books either. There are several legal free resources for books around the Internet. Most of these only offer old books that are no longer copyrighted – this means that you won’t find books like A World of Ice and Fire – but that still leaves thousands of classics that you’ll have to pay to buy in print.
Here are our favourite sites where you can legally download free ebooks to read on a Kindle, tablet, phone or even your PC:
1. Baen Free Library
Baen is an American publisher that focuses on science fiction and fantasy writing, and its ebook store is well known for its reasonable pricing and for other consumer-friendly features like the lack of DRM, which means you can copy the books across devices without restriction. The publisher has a roster of well-known writers including Lois McMaster Bujold, John Scalzi, and Michael A Stackpole, though it’s the work of its lesser-known writers that you’ll find on the free section on Baen’s website.
Unlike most of the self-published books on Amazon and other new stuff people give away on the Internet, everything in Baen’s catalog has passed through the filter of a professional editor, so a minimum quality of writing is insured. For fans of military science fiction, this site is definitely worth checking out.
Baen Free Library
Feedbooks is a good looking site that opens equally well on mobile devices, which makes it very convenient to use if you’re primarily reading on your mobile phone or tablet. This way, you can save your self the trouble of needing to downloading books on a PC and moving files between devices.
Feedbooks sells you books, which can be expensive if you’re in India because the prices are all for the US, but it also has two free sections. There is a section for free e-books in the public domain, and a separate section for new free e-books, which are largely self-published. This means it is easier to find the classics, if that’s what you want. Feedbooks is also useful because the site is really well organised into collections.
Feedbooks Public Domain books
3. Project Gutenberg
Most people have probably heard of Project Gutenberg. Run entirely on the effort of volunteers, Gutenberg is probably the oldest digital library, and houses over 48,000 ebooks. It has them in various formats, from plain-text to Kindle friendly formats to epubs.
Gutenberg even has a collection of audiobooks if you want. These range from ones read out by the computer, to ones that volunteers read out.
The website itself can be a little intimidating to use with books being nested behind several layers of navigation, but it’s still possibly the most exhaustive resource for free books online.
Quite unlike Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener, who was most uncooperative, Bartleby the website is a great resource, particularly for students. The site contains a huge number of readings, classics from literature, and also has a large collection of non-fiction that includes works of political and social history.
Bartleby also has a large selection of verse you can read, and also reference books on subjects such as quotations, religion, mythology, anatomy, grammar and more. All these books are available freely to read online, and you can download a smaller selection of books as PDF files.
5. Open Library
Another free resource for public domain books, Open Library is great because it has lists people can create, which you can also see – so for example, there’s a list of historical romance novels, and a list of books on the fur trade. Or you could search for all books about Istanbul, for example, in the subjects view. These tools make it easy to find the next book to read, which is handy if you’re not too familiar with the older books you find in these free libraries.
Open Library lets you read the books online in your browser, or download them to read on your device. It also includes links to sites where you can buy physical copies of the books if you prefer. The site also has one interesting feature – it helps you to find the book you want in a public library, so you can borrow the physical copy. That’s not really useful for Indian readers, but depending on where in the world you are, it could be quite handy.
6. Nook, Kindle, Kobo etc
From iTunes to Google Play to Kindle to Nook to Flipkart, just about every store where you can buy books also has a collection of free books that ranges from classics that are now in the public domain to self-published ebooks. We are partial towards the Nook ebookstore on Barnes and Noble, because it has a good collection that is sorted better than the others. It also has great free previews of paid books, that can be as little as a single chapter, or could be several.
Free previews aren’t the same thing as free ebooks, of course, but there are instances where a free preview can be pretty good, such as with James Patterson’s Witch and Wizard Book One, where the preview gives you the first twenty chapters for free. That’s really letting you get a good sense of the book before you have to put any money into it.
To check for any provider, visit their bookstore and set the filter to free, or set the price from low to high. The worst experience on this front was Flipkart; you can sort by price or by section, but there are no handy collections, no sorting by themes, or other tools we saw elsewhere. The other sites were generally a lot better, though perhaps a little behind Barnes and Noble.
Barnes and Noble
These are the best sites to legally download ebooks, but there’s one more option that is worth checking out. There is a subreddit (a board on online community Reddit) called Free ebooks which asks its members to post download links to free, legal ebooks. This covers a number of different sources, including the ones we mentioned above, but more as well. The community tries to ensure that only legal links are posted, but there’s no easy way to sort the books, so you might not always find what you want. If you are looking for new and interesting things though, then it usually won’t disappoint.
You can download these books directly on your phone or tablet, which simplifies things, but otherwise, you can also transfer them to an e-reader or other device using an app like Calibre, which is also our favourite tool for reading and managing ebooks on the PC.