Thousands of free Kindle books are out there. You just have to know where to look.n
By Michael Ansaldo and Séamus Bellamy
When you own an Amazon Kindle, the cost of supporting a voracious reading habit can get very steep, very quickly. A quick glance at Amazon’s list of the Best Books of the Month shows that a decent read can set you back between $13 and $15 for a Kindle edition book. Sure, Amazon offers deals on great ebooks, but waiting for a deal could take forever. Many titles can be had for two bucks or less, but it takes work to find the gems among the dross.
What you need are some solid options for finding free, absorbing content to devour on your Kindle. We’re more than happy to point you in the right direction. (And if you need a new e-reader, find one among our reviews of the best Kindles.) Updated July 2, 2019 with additional resources.
At last count, Project Gutenberg offered 57,245 free ebooks that can be downloaded in a number of formats, including ones that are readable on a Kindle E-Reader. You won’t find any new releases here, with good reason: All of the titles available though Project Gutenberg are either in the public domain, because the copyright on the work has expired or because the holder of the book’s copyright has given the project’s organizers permission to provide access to it at no cost.
That said, you’ll find plenty of amazing books to read. Some of the greatest tomes in the English language are in the public domain: Moby Dick, Anne of Green Gables, A Study in Scarlett and Beowulf are all there and ready for the taking. (Project Gutenberg provides some content in 49 other languages as well.)
To get Project Gutenberg books onto your Kindle, download the book you want to read. Then, attach your e-reader to your PC with a USB cable and open it in File Explorer, just as you would any other connected drive. In your Kindle’s file directory, you’ll see two file folders: Documents and Fonts (if you own a Kindle Oasis, there will also be a third folder, called Audible). Drag and drop the .mobi file you downloaded from the Project Gutenberg website into your Kindle’s Document file and disconnect the device once the file transfer is complete. Boom: You’re ready to start reading.
One word of caution: If you live outside of the United States, downloading the books from Project Gutenberg might not be legal. Be sure to check your local laws before pulling the trigger on any books you find here.
If you’ve got a library card, you’ve got access to free ebooks. OverDrive is an online service that allows library card holders to download free ebooks (and movies and audio content, too) from their public library, school or institution’s collection to their Kindles. The more library cards you have in your name, the more books you have access to.
Using OverDrive is dead simple. After entering your library card number and the PIN assigned to you when you were issued your card (if you can’t remember it, ask your librarian), you’ll have access to all of the digital content that your library has in its collection. The more libraries you belong to, the better chance there is of finding something you’ll want to read.
Just like a brick-and-mortar library with actual books on its shelves, only one person can take out a book on OverDrive at a time. If a book is available, click Borrow and follow the prompts. The service also provides a well-written help section to walk you through the process. Depending on your library’s rules, you may be able to choose from a number of loan periods. If a book’s unavailable, many libraries will allow you to join a waiting list. When your turn comes around, OverDrive will let you know.
That’s the good stuff. Now for the bad: Not all libraries offer Kindle-ready editions of the ebooks that they have in their collection. Many libraries serve up digital content as an Adobe Digital Editions file—a format that’s not compatible with Amazon’s E-Ink devices.
Swap Kindle books with a friend
While Amazon keeps it quiet, some ebooks purchased via the Kindle Store can be loaned out to your friends. Just hope that they’ll return the favor from time to time!
To loan out a Kindle ebook, sign into Amazon.com and open the Account & Lists drop-down menu, located in the top right corner of the Amazon homepage. Choose Your Content & Devices. You should see a list of all of the Kindle ebooks you’ve ever bought. Next to the title of each book, you’ll note a grey square with three dots on it. Click it, and a list of all of the options for this title will appear. If Loan this title is on the list, you’re in business. Clicking it will take you to a page that lets you send the book to the friend of your choosing’s email address. Your Kindle ebooks can be lent out for a 14-day period, during which time you won’t have access to the title, yourself—just as if you’d lent a book to a pal from the shelf in your living room.
Share books with your significant other
If you’re not the only Kindle owner in your family, you’re in luck: Amazon will allow a maximum of two adults per family, to share Kindle eBooks with one another. So, if your partner buys an ebook from the Kindle Store, you’ll be able to read it too, at no charge. To get started, log into Amazon’s website and go to your Account Settings > Your Content & Devices. Click Households and Family Library. From here, you’ll be able to set up your Family library sharing settings.
A project of the Internet Archive, Open Library provides access to well over one million free ebooks. It bills its offerings as “the world’s classic literature at your fingertips,” but that doesn’t mean it’s a museum of moldy oldies. While you’ll find enough literary canon to make an AP English teacher beam with joy, the virtual shelves are also stocked with bestselling authors like Stephen King and Tom Clancy, kid-lit series like Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and a host of academic texts. Given Open Library’s stated goal is “to make all the published works of humankind available to everyone in the world,” you’re likely to find what you’re looking for here.
Depending on the title, books can be downloaded or borrowed. The first group is composed mostly of public domain classics. Popular contemporary fiction makes up much of the latter. In all cases, the books are scanned from paper copies, which may raise legal questions depending on your locale. Open Library is aware of this as it states in its licensing disclaimer “There may be existing rights issues on some contributions and in some jurisdictions.” Make sure to check your local fair use laws before downloading any of these titles.
At its heart, though, Open Library is a community-driven library catalog. Indeed, it has vastly more records than books—more than 20 million currently—as so many books aren’t yet available in digital form. For records that are linked to ebooks, multiple editions are listed (James Joyce’s Ulysses, for example, is offered in 184 editions), each with its own download directory.
To search for a book, make sure show only eBooks is checked and enter the title or author. Depending on the title, books can be read online or downloaded in a variety of formats including PDF, plain text, ePub, and MOBI. You’ll need to sideload the downloaded file onto your Kindle.
If your reading tastes trend left of the bestsellers list, Smashwords may be for you. Ostensibly a free ebook publishing and distribution platform for indie authors, it also provides readers with storefront access to more than 500,000 titles, about 80,300 of which are available free of charge.
Books are organized by category—fiction, non-fiction, essay, plays, screenplays and poetry. To get to the gratis offerings, select Free from the filter bars at the top of the page, then select a genre to start discovering new voices. Books can be read online or downloaded in a range of Kindle-compatible formats. It’s also noteworthy that Smashwords publishes books in languages and dialects besides American English, and this info in included in each book’s description.
Given that Amazon owns Goodreads, it’s hardly shocking the retailer provides a direct link to its store for every title on its site. But you may not know it also offers direct downloads of ebooks. There are about 2,500 of these available, many of which are free. There aren’t a lot of popular titles here, but there are several interesting ones including a few books in the James Potter series, a fan-fiction sequel set in the Harry Potter universe.
Available freebies are identifiable by a button under the Get a Copy section of the book record (the verbiage varies, but “Download eBook” and “Kindle $0.00” are dead giveaways). However finding them among the many thousands of titles on Goodreads is a needle-in-a-haystack proposition. Fortunately, you can find all available ebooks aggregated here.
Once you find a book that interests you, click the appropriate link to download it to your computer. From there, you can side load it onto your Kindle.
Manybooks comes by its name honestly. There are more than 50,000 free ebooks here, ranging from public domain titles to offerings from independent and lesser-known contemporary authors.
The site has an easy-to-navigate tiled interface that allows you explore by a dozen popular genres. There’s also a regularly updated “editor’s choice” selection of books and a section of trending titles. If you’re overwhelmed by the options, start with the editors’ “Ultimate Guide to Our Most Popular Free eBooks,” which offers a detailed rundown of classic public domain books by genre, including such favorites as Jane Eyre, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and War of the Worlds.
Each book record provides publishing details, a plot summary, and a text excerpt. These are accessible to anyone to read, but you need to register for an account to download the book itself. Once you click the download link, you just need to choose the appropriate format, which Manybooks will save as your preferred option in your profile if you didn’t already do so when you registered.
DigiLibraries is an online book catalog that boasts around 30,000 ebooks in Kindle formats, all of them free. Books are sorted into dozens of categories and sub-categories, and the selection is predictably heavy on public domain titles. (You’ll find Pride and Prejudice under Juvenile Fiction, not Diary of a Wimpy Kid.)
The site won’t win any design awards, but everything is laid out clearly. You can select from a list of genres in a left sidebar—most of which open to sub-genre choices. Curated selections of popular and new ebooks are prominently displayed in the center of the homepage with cover photos.
Each book record includes a text excerpt and three download formats: ePub, PDF, and Mobi. The site limits you to 50 downloads per day, which should be plenty for all but the most voracious readers.
If you don’t have a library card or your library doesn’t subscribe to Overdrive, Book Lending is a great alternative. The site leverages Amazon’s Kindle lending feature to match lenders with borrowers.
Using the site couldn’t be simpler. If you’re looking for a book, press the big orange button on the homepage and either search for a title or browse available loans. If you want to loan a book, press the giant green button and look up a specific title or browse recent requests. In either case, if the book is available for borrowing or lending it will display a small orange or green button, respectively, in its record. Just press the appropriate one to complete the transaction.
Borrowers receive an email notification from Amazon that allows them to download the eBook to their Kindle, and they have seven days to do it. Amazon’s lending rules apply here just as if you were borrowing directly from the store. Titles can be borrowed for 14 days, during which they are unavailable to the lender, and are automatically returned at the end of that period. Also, a title can be loaned only once.
This article originally published July 25, 2018, by Seamus Bellamy.
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Michael Ansaldo is veteran consumer and small-business technology journalist. He contributes regularly to TechHive and PCWorld.