You'll be surprised to find out there is way more available legally online for reading material than your standard public domain books. If you know where to look, you can find a wide variety of ways to read books online for free without breaking or bending any laws-- even recent bestsellers!
I'm currently waiting on my first E-book reader in the mail, because I finally feel like the techology, choices, and price have caught up to where I want them to be. While I impatiently await the arrival of my new toy, I did a great deal of research on where and how to find free online reading material to download for my reader.
Reading books online is a great way to catch up on your reading, as long as you know where to look. Many books are available on the internet in a variety of formats. There are free (open source) programs available to get your reading material changed into a format you can use, if it happens to end up posted in a format you can't read.
How Ebooks Work-- Software, Formats, and DRM
You will find books for sale and for free in a wide variety of formats online. If you are looking for some free reading material, knowing what to do with the books you find is an important step toward reading your book. Here are many common ways you will find books available online, so you know what you're looking at when you find it.
Plain Text Books (ebook.txt)
Some of the places you go to download free books online will offer you plain text files. When you click on the link, it will load right into your browser window, probably with a rather old looking font and a lack of complex formatting. To save a text ebook, right click on the link that takes you to the book and select "save as..." You can save it under whatever name it comes up under, and read it with any basic text editor you have, probably even notepad.
Webpages/HTML files (ebook.html/ebook.htm)
Many free books come as simple webpages, formatted with basic HTML. To save an e-book formatted as HTML, you can right click and "save as" or use the file menu to "save page as" whatever comes up on the autocomplete. Most books to read online are presented in HTML, but the format will work from your web browser just as well offline as it will when you're connected.
Popular E-book Specific Formats That Might Have DRM
Amazon Kindle Format (ebook.azw/ebook.mobi). If you find one of these you'd like to read that is available for free, you can download a program on Amazon's website to allow it to show on your computer if you don't have a Kindle. The Kindle's DRM format (AZW) is just like the mobipocket format with a few small changes. Many ebook files can be easily converted to MOBI to use with a Kindle.
Adobe EPUB (ebook.epub). This format is growing in popularity among some ebook stores and many libraries. If you find a free DRM'd EPUB book you'd like to read, you can download software from Adobe's website to access your book. Lots of reader software and hardware supports non DRM'd EPUB files, making them easy to access. Warning: I've heard many of the ebooks available at Barnes and Noble's new ebook store for the Nook are using a format called "EPUB" that won't work with anything other than a Nook.
Adobe PDF (ebook.pdf). PDF files are usually saved as images, unfortunately, which makes them a little bit difficult to manage or convert if you don't have a good setup for reading PDFs. Adobe Digital Editions (linked above) will work for managing DRM'd PDF files.
Palm Ereader (ebook.pdb). Ereader is a DRM ebook format that has a wide range of readers available for many mobile devices, from ipods to PDAs and phones. While there are many ebooks sold in ereader format in various stores, there aren't many dedicated e-book readers that support ereader format because Palm requires the devices that support ereader to only support ereader DRM.
There are many other ebook formats out there, I'm just trying to cover some of the most popular. If you notice an ebook format that you feel is used widely enough to be included in my list, feel free to leave me a note in the comments.
So, Where Can I Read Books Online for Free?
There are many options online for finding free ebooks. If you have an e-book reader with it's own store, like the Kindle, Nook, or any of Sony's readers you can start by checking their bookstores for free titles. Many of these stores have a few free titles available every week or so to generate interest. Read on for some suggestions that will work for the rest of us.
It is easy to overlook your local library when doing an internet search, but libraries are carrying more and more ebooks every day. Go to your local library's catalog, do a search for ebooks, and see what comes up. Most library ebooks are offered in a DRM epub format that expires when the book would normally come due. You can find some great stuff on your library's website, including popular bestsellers and many genre favorites. I noticed a few Kindle books sneaking into my own local library ebook collection as well.
Many people have already heard of Project Gutenberg's mission to make all non-copyrighted books available digitally, but you'd be amazed what you can actually find there. Look for suggestion lists and book reviews of people who are interested in your favorite book genre that have been going through older titles to get an idea of what to search for.
The Baen Free Library
If you are a fan of Science Fiction or Fantasy, The Baen Free Library is a free book goldmine. Most of the books available are from Baen's (book publisher) collection, but they will take other authors as long as they own the rights to the book they want to offer.
There are many other free ebook websites available online, but most of them simply repackage content available at Project Gutenberg. If you know of any free ebook repository you think should be listed here, go ahead and leave me a note in the comments.
You Can Find Free Ebooks Online For Any Taste
Resources For Reading Free Ebooks
- Baen Free Library
Science Fiction and Fantasy Electronic books. Free ebooks from authors such as David Weber, Lois Bujold, David Drake, Mercedes Lackey and other greats. These books are all in DRM free formats, so you can read without hassle.
- Project Gutenberg
Project Gutenberg is the most comprehensive collection of public domain or out of copyright ebooks available on the internet. If you are interested in reading anything from before 1960, you can probably find it here for free.
- Calibre - E-book management
Calibre is a piece of open source software available for Windows, Apple, and Linux that can open and convert just about any form of non-DRM ebook available to make it compatible with your preferred ebook reader or ebook reading software.
Cecily on February 26, 2012:
Thanks for sharing these resources! I recommend also:
htodd from United States on May 29, 2011:
Thanks for the great post..
teddybear1992 on December 15, 2010:
Bookrix.com is a good site to read free books online, educhoices.org is another good site, readbookonline.net is another good free online book site, onlinebooksforfree.com is another good online booksite to start with. Hey can you tell that I love to read and I search and scour for free sites?? Good luck to all w/ these.
Ros Webb from Ireland on December 08, 2010:
I was looking for free books online , this did the job.
skmania1 from Bangalore on July 13, 2010:
nice info on reading books online..I got some hub..
Bworky (author) from California on April 08, 2010:
Thanks, Jen! I hadn't heard of scribd, but it looks really neat. I just found a couple books there too. Once I mess with a bit and get comfortable with the formats they offer I'll add it to the hub.
Jen on April 07, 2010:
I've also read NY Times best seller books on scribd.com