How to Find Free and Cheap Ebooks

Public access ebooks

Where I live, decent public libraries with connections to the software service Overdrive allow surprisingly easy checkout of “library books” wirelessly to your Kindle. The Overdrive system provides libraries with both audiobook downloads and eBooks. I find, like most, that reading or listening to these books on a computer is untenable, but transferring audiobooks to my Sansa Clip player is as easy as pie.

For the (increasingly) large selection of books with Kindle versions, it’s very easy to get free content to show up via Amazon’s Whispernet. Nothing fiddly about it, no cables either. And for the earlier cool tool of “User Manual First“, Kindles are a pretty good place to keep these PDF files. Either transfer via cable (easy) or use your Kindle’s email address which allow your docs to show up via Whispernet.

Finally, if you sign up for Amazon Prime service, you not only get free shipping on your purchases, you also get access to the “Kindle Owner’s Library” – more books without fees. And if your Kindle is a Fire (or you don’t mind watching on a PC), you also get access to lots of streaming video (my wife is re-enjoying Ally McBeal (and I’m enjoying not being exposed to it, too)).

Anyway, go to your library’s website and look for Overdrive services. Another convergence of several cool tools that merge to form a new level of cool tool.

— Wayne Ruffner

project gutenberg.jpgThe ubiquity of ereaders like the Kindle, Nook and iPad has driven a surge in ebook availability. Retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble have the lock on bestsellers and the like, but a flourishing underground market for free and cheap ebooks has become a boon for readers.

The best established source for free ebooks is Project Gutenberg whose archives contain over 36,000 ebooks that represent nearly every out-of-copyright classic piece of literature along with a vast archive of obscure but pleasurable reads. The quality of digitization is excellent, and the site’s vibrant community ensures that any errors are quickly fixed. They also offer the ebooks in a variety of formats (ePub, mobi, html), including some as downloadable audiobooks.

With more and more libraries getting into the game of lending ebooks, the software company Overdrive (that Wayne mentioned) has been leading the way. Libraries contract out their ebook libraries to OverDrive who make them available for a limited loan period (via a proprietary DRM from Adobe) through their software that is available on most operating systems including iOS and Android. Once you have the application, simply add your local or state library system (some are better stocked than others) and Overdrive allows you to browse the ebooks that they have available to check out. Everything’s automated so there are no late fees, and often times you can get best sellers without waiting (or, if they’re “checked out” you can reserve them and when they become available they are automatically downloaded). is the friendliest index of free ebooks of the bunch. It will search Project Gutenberg’s archives, as well as troll through numerous other archives. They also provide recommendations and reviews (which is incredibly useful given the sheer number of available titles).

Outside of strictly free sources, InkMesh is the best search engine I have found for identifying if an author or a book is available in ebook form, whether it is free, where I can download it, and in what format. They have also collated a comprehensive list of free ebooks available for a variety of platforms.

Two more sources for the ebook crazy are the blogs Pixel of Ink and Books on the Knob which highlight attractive deals for the Kindle.

Finally, to manage this inundation of ebooks I heartily recommend the previously reviewed Calibre. If you have other recommended sources for eBooks and the like, feel free to leave a note in the comments and I’ll make sure to update this page.

— Oliver Hulland


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