The internet’s yelling about book piracy again, so now’s a great time to do a roundup of legal ways of getting free books when you don’t have library access, aren’t working as a book reviewer, or are in a country where rights are restricted. This isn’t a guide to getting any particular book available for free legally and immediately–outside a functioning library system, that may just not be possible–but it should help readers who are struggling to find books fill their TBR piles with free material.
Public Domain Books
Many authors (like me!) are still putting up free web serials. There’s no single site that works as a comprehensive directory, but Web Fiction Guide and Muse’s Success are good places to start looking for stories.
If you prefer audiobooks, podcast fiction scene is AMAZING right now. Whether you want a brilliantly acted radio play or a more traditional audiobook format, you can find hundreds of hours of amazing fiction for free.
The webcomics scene is also producing some absolutely stellar storytelling and art for free. There are a few different directories for finding new ones. Try WebComics Hub to get started.
Freebies and Bundles
and BookFunnel. These are particularly great sites for finding books by authors you haven’t heard of yet, especially marginalized authors.
Publishers and Magazines
For short stories, many genre fiction magazines have free content online. You probably can’t get the whole magazine for free but you can get several short stories per month. My personal favorites in SFF are Clarkesworld, Uncanny Magazine, Lightspeed Magazine, and Fireside Magazine.
The Baen Free Library and Tor’s free ebook club are really cool programs by SFF publishers. There are almost certainly more options in other genres, I just happen to be the most familiar with what’s going on in SFF.
If you prefer nonfiction, Longform curates some of the best articles on the web. I particularly recommend their true crime section.
Free Options in Online Stores
You don’t need a Kindle to read books from Amazon, and there are a TON of temporarily or permanently free books available for download in many markets. To get alerts about Amazon books available for low prices or free, you can sign up for Bookbub. You don’t get to choose the books that will be available for free, but you can choose the categories to watch.
Smashwords is also primarily a site for selling books, but there’s a ton of free content available too.
Print Book Distribution Programs
For parents looking for books for young kids in the US, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library distributes free books every month.
Something to be aware of as you search for free books is that Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram discourage longform prose. If those sites allow longer pieces of content at all, they’ll probably be hidden behind a link. That’s because those sites are designed to keep people clicking or scrolling; they’re designed to discourage people from exiting the app or settling down to read a longer piece of content.
A lot of people putting free work out into the world are getting discouraged because social media’s making it harder to get new work in front of their readers. Take it from me, a person who’s made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot in the process of creating and running a web serial: it’s a lot easier to upload a manuscript to KDP than it is to pay for hosting, design a website, and figure out how to run promotions outside the Amazon ecosystem. So if you want more free books in the world, go find the people who are already creating free books, leave comments on the ones you like, and spread the love on social media.