For many people, reading is as important to their well-being as breathing. You can escape to a far-off place, learn the mysteries of the universe or take a step back in time, all by opening a good book. Just ask your favorite bibliophile if they could give up reading for a day and watch their eyes widen in horror at the mere suggestion.
It's also just good for you. Studies have shown that reading can fight depression, lower your risk of heart disease and help you get to sleep faster. It also improves your vocabulary and can help you better empathize with people, which are skills we all could use a little help with, thanks to our ever-growing dependency on technology for social interaction.
But here's the thing, reading can be expensive if you don't know how to do it right. Purchasing a new hardcover or paperback book will run you anywhere from $10-$25+, depending on your choice. Even Kindle titles are going to run around $8 for the average new release. For a person who can devour more than a book a day, purchasing all their reading material will become quite costly, quite quickly.
This is where finding free, quality reading material is a must. If you're an avid reader, you've most likely browsed the free e-book selection on your Kindle, Google Books or Apple Books device. But where else can you find free books?
We've found eight awesome places to get your hands on free reading materials and three killer ways to score audiobooks without dropping a dime.
Before you go questing for free reading material, there are a couple of things you're going to need to understand.
Welcome to the Public Domain
Sounds like a riddle, "What can be used by everyone and owned by no one?" The Mysterious Public Domain.
Many of the free books you'll find are free because they are considered part of the public domain. These books have either been added by their authors, or their copyright has expired.
"Copyrighted creative works, whether they're books, movies or music, enter the public domain in the United States after 95 years, meaning they're free for use by the American public and free to build upon," according to BookRiot.
Not all book files available for download are going to be the same. Whether you're working with a Kindle, Nook, iPad or some other tablet or e-reader, there is a file format that will work best for your device.
- .epub - If you see a book download with this extension, it will work on most devices but are not compatible with Kindle devices.
- .azw (.azw3) - This is specifically for use on the Kindle platform. These file types allow users to use bookmarks, highlighters and make annotations.
- .pdf - This super common file type can be read on just about any device, making it super popular for use as an e-book. Academic papers, manuals, and research studies are often available for download and review in this format.
- .txt - This is a text-only file with no bells and whistles and should be really read by most devices.
How to Read Books for Free
So how exactly do you read new books on the regular without breaking the bank and spending a small fortune? Check out these eight options to keep you on budget and reading to your heart's content.
Your Local Library
This often forgotten location is a great place to pick up books to read for free if you still like to read actual books. It's easy to forget that libraries even exist with everything going digital, but they most definitely do.
Most public library systems will require you to obtain a library card to check out books. This is usually free or a couple of bucks and will probably require you to provide information like address and phone number. My local library only charges for replacement cards.
Many locations offer curbside delivery of library materials during the COVID-19 global pandemic, so you can still get your hands on free books and bestsellers while keeping your distance.
With over 60,000 titles to choose from, Project Gutenberg is bound to have a book option for every reader. With a mission to "Create and distribute e-books," Project Gutenberg provides readers Kindle and ePub file formats for download.
You can read using just your web browser and a computer or an e-reader that can access the internet.
The website also accepts donations to continue its mission and allow additional titles to be added as soon as they enter the Public Domain.
Wattpad is a platform that connects readers to writers' original stories. Users can access the platform as a writer, reader or both. Lovers of science fiction, young adult, and short stories will feel right at home on Wattpad.
If you're looking to discover a hot new author who doesn’t work with a publisher, this may be just the platform you are looking for. In this fiction-only option, authors upload chapters at a time to be devoured by loyal readers. A lot of the titles on Wattpad are free, but there are paid options as well. Users can purchase coins to unlock chapters of paid content.
With a Premium+ subscription, $7.47 per month, you can access two paid stories each month and kill ads completely.
Open Library is basically a giant internet library made available through a non-profit project, Internet Archive. Libraries worldwide digitize select titles from their collections and make them available to borrow by one reader at a time.
Some of the titles are available in what's called the "BookReader" edition, meaning you can read it instantly in your web browser. Other titles will need to be downloaded to your preferred device in either a .pdf or .epub format. The Open Library website has great instructions for creating your account and downloading your first book.
They even offer a waitlist service so you can get your hands on popular titles. You'll have 24 hours once notified to borrow your waitlisted book.
Books are available for download to every reader and web browser. Check out the FAQ for detailed instructions for each device type. You may need additional apps from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store, depending on the device you'll be reading on.
With titles in both the fiction and non-fiction categories, Smashwords offers users free online books in just about every subject and category.
BookRix is very similar to Smashwords and offers e-book publication services to independent authors. It also offers a selection of the classics available through the Public Domain. Users can access select BookRix titles for free and purchase an expanded collection through links to direct purchasing on your Nook, Kindle, or iPad.
Some titles are only available to read on your web browser and cannot be downloaded, making offline reading difficult. With categories from everything to romance and erotica to true crime and children's books, BookRix has an impressive collection of titles.
This handy little app lets users borrow e-books from their local library for free, using the OverDrive system. Over 90% of libraries in North America and 78 other countries use this system. Before you download the app, use the Library Locator tool to see if there is a library near you.
Users will need to have a library card from their selected library and can only access titles specifically listed by that location. Everything from local favorites to New York Times bestsellers can be listed on One Drive, so it's worth checking out your library's selection.
Books are downloaded to the app, so there is no need to worry about file type or extension. Libby is available through Google Play and the Apple App Store.
Amazon Prime members have access to a free reading feature called Prime Reading. With Prime Reading, you can access hundreds of rotating book selections and one free e-book prerelease from the Editor's list each month. And we're not just talking about Public Domain books. You can read books by authors like Dean Koontz and Mindy Kaling or feed your inner child with a trip back to Hogwarts with Harry Potter.
I was today years old when I realized I could add Harry Potter to my digital library thanks to my Prime membership.
Any title you download will disappear if you ever cancel your membership, so think of it like leasing your favorites to read on demand and having a rotating library of great books available for download.
With the death of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, Kindle Unlimited is your next best option. While it is still going to cost you $9.99 per month, you'll get access to over 2,000 e-books and thousands of audiobooks. Read and listen to as many as you want anytime you want.
You can enjoy this service free for two months. Then, you will be charged $9.99 each month after that.
How to Listen to Books for Free
Kindle Unlimited isn't the only way to get your hands on free audiobooks. Check out these three ways to feed your ear holes without spending a cent.
LibriVox is a collection of free audiobooks available through the Public Domain and read by volunteers. With titles available in every genre, and you'll find a new sci-fi thriller or travel book with your name all over it. Perfect for people who like to listen to audiobooks in the car on the way to work but hate shelling out the cash for a new book each week.
The free 30-day introductory offer from Audible gives its users one credit for a title on the premium selection list and access to the entire Audible Plus catalog of audiobooks, podcasts, and Audible Originals. Amazon Prime members receive two credits instead of one.
To keep this version free, you'll need to remember to cancel before your 30-day trial expires. If you love Audible, continue your subscription for $14.95 per month.
Like Audible, Audiobooks gives its users a 30-day free trial to test the waters. You'll get access to any two books in the premium catalog plus one VIP-only selection. Audiobooks boast over 10,000 completely free audiobooks and 200,000 premium selections available for their users.
Once the 30-day trial expires, users will be billed $14.95 per month and receive one selection from the premium catalog and one VIP-only selection.
Read More Books
Supporting your reading habit doesn't have to cost a fortune. In fact, it can be basically free! You'll most likely need a smartphone, e-reader or tablet unless you're checking out your library, but most households already own at least one of those devices.
If you find yourself lost in a sea of free literature, head on over to a site like Goodreads for tailored book recommendations, reviews and reading challenges. It's like a social network for book nerds, and it's also free!
You might also be interested in: 10 Of The Best E-Readers [For Your Eyes And Your Wallet]
Best Ways To Read Books For Free: