How to find free books online

If you like reading books but can’t afford to load up at Barnes & Noble or pay the increasing cost of e-books, then don’t despair – there are literally millions of titles that can be downloaded for free.

Many of these are “in the public domain,” which means they are copyright-free and available on the Internet and elsewhere completely free-of-charge. These include thousands of classics, like Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities or James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. However, there are countless other free titles, ranging from first-time novels from undiscovered authors to academic works published by non-profit groups.

If you’re interested in sampling this vast literary treasure trove, here’s where to look:

Google Books

It’s been estimated that there are around 130 million unique books in the world…and Google intends to scan all of them! By the end of 2013 it was well on its way, with over 30 million books already digitized and thousands more added every week.

Not all of these books are available to read online. Google has been bogged down by numerous individual and class-action copyright claims from authors and publishers, and it appears that its goal to create the world’s first complete digital library has been stalled, at least for now.

However, the books that Google can make available – all 5 million of them – are accessible through its Google Play Bookstore, where users can download reading apps and peruse the huge catalog of both free and for-sale titles. The Bookstore includes a “Top Free” section, but don’t feel restricted to the 100 or so titles that are featured there. There are over a million more free titles, so search away until you find one – or several – that you like.

iTunes

Apple’s iTunes Store also has thousands of free titles available for download to Macs, PCs and Apple mobile devices. Just go to the App Store, click on Books and choose Free Books. Apple divides its free book catalog into several helpful sections, including What’s Hot, Breakout Books (new releases), classic Fiction and Literature, Biographies and Memoirs, etc.

There is the usual iTunes description of each book, along with reader reviews where available, and related titles. Books can be downloaded to keep forever, rather than as short-term rentals, and you can download a sample if you don’t want to immediately download the whole book.

Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg offers over 46,000 free e-books for download to a PC, Kindle, iPad, Android or other portable device, and over 100,000 additional free titles through its partners and affiliates. The site has useful sections highlighting recent additions, and a Top 100 section, which features the most popular downloads and authors.

Although Project Gutenberg is much smaller that Google Books, it’s often easier to navigate and there isn’t the distraction of having to scroll through thousands of for-sale books to find the free ones that you are looking for.

Open Library

Open Library is a off-shoot of the non-profit Internet Archive, which was established with the lofty goal of creating a publically available digital record of every book ever published. In the same way that Wikipedia relies on user contributions to build its online encyclopedia, Open Library invites users to add books, fix typos, or do whatever else they can to preserve this public record of the world’s literary offerings.

The free e-book section has a lending library, which allows registered users to “borrow” up to 5 books at a time from a collection of over 10,000 titles, which increases to 100,000 if you include Open Library’s network of affiliate public libraries. Books can be downloaded as a PDF, read in plain text form, or even sent to a Kindle.

Many Books

Many Books contains over 29,000 free titles organized into various helpful categories, including authors, genres, languages, new titles, and Books of the Week. Most of the titles are sourced from Project Gutenberg but the emphasis is on the more popular works.

E-books can be downloaded in a variety of different formats (including PDF) and can be read on multiple devices. Many titles are also available as audio books.

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