Amazon’s newest Kindle eReaders are now available, with starting prices as low as $69. That’s a pretty great price for a portable device with an E Ink display, a 2 month battery, and the ability to store a thousand digital books.
A Kindle isn’t much use unless you also have a few books to read. Amazon sells its eReaders at or near the same price it costs to build them because the company expects to make money by selling you books.
But here’s the thing: you can read thousands of eBooks on a Kindle without spending another penny at Amazon. And I’m not talking about piracy.
Here are some of the best ways to find free content for your new Kindle.
Borrow public library books
Amazon offers a Kindle Owners’ Lending Library to anyone that spends $79 per year to join the Amazon prime program. But odds are you can also borrow books from your local public library… for free.
All you need is a library card and a public library that uses the OverDrive media system. You can find out if your library participates by entering your zip code in the box at OverDrive.com.
Then all you have to do is login with your library account, find a book you want to read, add it to your cart, and it will automatically be sent to your Kindle for a 3 week loan.
There are a few caveats. While OverDrive stocks thousands of popular titles including recent bestsellers, digital library books are treated a lot like real library books. Each library has only a limited number of copies of a book to lend at a time.
In other words, if there’s only one digital copy of the book, you have to wait for someone to “return” it before you can read it. For some popular titles, there can be dozens of people waiting in line ahead of you, which means it could take months for you to get your book.
Some books may also not be available for Kindle devices. OverDrive also has EPUB books which you can read on a B&N NOOK, Sony Reader, or other device that supports Adobe DRM.
Despite these restrictions, borrowing books from your local library is probably one of the best ways to read popular titles for free.
If you already have a few eBooks on your Kindle, you can also sign up for a sort of private library such as Lendle, which lets you borrow books from other users, and gives you more borrowing credit for every book of your own that you make available to other readers.
Find free books from Amazon
Amazon itself is a pretty great place to find free eBooks. There are thousands of public domain titles mixed into Amazon’s library, including classics by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley, Mark Twainand others.
But you can also find books from contemporary authors. Sometimes they give away books for free as a means of promotion.
For popular classic titles, just visit Amazon’s list of “Free Popular Classics.”There are well over 2,000 titles in the list, but you may also find more simply by searching Amazon for classic authors or titles.
It’s a little tougher to find free books from contemporary authors simply by searching Amazon — but there are a number of third-party tools that can help.
- Hundred Zeros is a website dedicated to showing the latest Kindle books available from Amazon for free. You can also sort eBooks by subject.
- Inkmesh is a digital book search engine, but it also includes a tool that lets you view free Kindle books. If you’re thinking that most of the books listed are probably horrible, well, you might be right. But you can sort titles by user rating.
- Baen Free Library offers free science fiction eBooks in a variety of formats and includes support for Kindle eReaders. In fact, you can even tap a button to email an eBook directly to your Kindle using the email address associated with your eReader.
Use Amazon Kindle Personal Documents Service to send yourself eBooks
What happens if you come across an eBook that isn’t in a Kindle-friendly format like MOBIor AZW?
The simplest way is to simply email yourself a document using Amazon’s Kindle Personal Documents Service. Just visit your Kindle settings or visit amazon.com/myk to find (or change) the email address associated with your account, and you can email documents which Amazon will convert into eBooks for you.
You can use this service to convert HTML, DOC, or RTF files to Kindle documents. You can also send yourself PDF files, but they may not look as good on your eReader since the pages aren’t reformatted and text may look too small.
Once you’ve emailed yourself a document, you can send it to any device associated with your Kindle account (or delete it) by visiting your Personal Documents section at Amazon.com/myk.
As mentioned above, you can also email yourself DRM-free MOBI or AZW files which you obtain from outside of the Kindle store.
Use Calibre to convert txt, html, epub, and other books to Kindle books
But what if you find a free eBook that’s not in one of those formats mentioned above? Then you’ll need to convert it. Fortunately that’s pretty easy to do using Calibre.
Calibre is an excellent tool for managing your digital book collection on your PC. The free tool also does a great job of converting DRM-free files from one format to another.
So let’s say you’ve downloaded a copy of The Odyssey in EPUB, but you want to read it on your Kindle. Just load up Calibre, add the book to your library, right-click on the title, and choose the “convert individuality option.”
Next, choose the output format you want to use (Mobi is a safe bet if you have a Kindle), and click OK. In a few moments, you should have two copies of the book, one as an EPUB, one as a MOBI file.
You can then copy the MOBI version to your Kindle with a USB cable, or email it to your device. You can even configure Calibre to email it for you, without opening a web browser or email client.
Calibre can also download book covers, metadata, and other information from the internet and add them to your eBooks.
Find free public domain and Creative Commons-licensed books
OK, now that we know how to convert books to Kindle-readable formats, it’s time to scour the internet for places to discover free (and DRM-free) eBooks.
- Project Gutenberg is one of the longest-running resources for free eBooks. The group has over 40,000 free books to choose from.
- Archive.org has a few more titles than that… at over 3.6 million items in its eBook and text archive.
- ManyBooks offers tens of thousands of free eBooks which you can search or sort by author, title, genre, or language. They’re available for download in a range of formats including AZW and MOBI.
- OpenCulture has a list of several hundred free eBooks from authors ranging from Aesop to Isaac Asimov (and that’s just in the A section).
- Author websites – Some authors make their own books available for free (or for purchase). Probably one of the best known authors to take this approach is science fiction writer (and Boing Boing contributor) Cory Doctorow. All of his books are offered under a Creative Commons license. You can buy them or read them for free. If you like them, you might want to think about making a donation, to encourage Doctorow and others to keep following this approach.
Find free textbooks, instructional books, or other non-fiction titles
OpenCulture offers 150 free textbooks covering topics such as art history, business, economics, history, math, philosophy, and physics.
O’Reilly also offers a number of free titles with “open” copyright, mostly dealing with computer programming and related topics. All of the books the publisher sells are also available DRM-free, which means if you do pay for them, you can copy them to pretty much any device without worrying about software telling you that you don’t have permission to read them.
Send books, magazine articles, and other web content to your Kindle
While full-length eBooks are nice, the Kindle is also a great device for reading newspaper or magazine articles, blog posts, or other long-form writing that you find on the web.
Amazon offers a free Send To Kindle tool that lets makes it easy to send web pages or other documents directly to your Kindle. My favorite version of the tool is the Google Chrome add-on which lets you simply tap a button when viewing any website to send that page to your Kindle.
There are also unofficial send to Kindle web apps which you can use from any browser, such as fivefilters Push to Kindle or the Klip.me browser bookmarklet for Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, or Internet Explorer.
I also use the free Send to Kindle app for Android from Tchami from time to time. It’s not as easy to use as a 1-click browser add-on or bookmarklet, but you can copy any URL from your web browser to the mobile app to email a web page to your Kindle. So if you find an article on your phone that you’d rather read on your Kindle, it only takes a few taps to make that happen.
Bonus Round: Reading Kindle eBooks without a Kindle
Don’t want to spend money on a dedicated eReader? No problem. Amazon offers free Kindle apps for smartphones, tablets, and computers. You can even use the Kindle Cloud Reader to view eBooks in a web browser.
If you’ve got any type of mobile or desktop computer, odds are Amazon’s got you covered.
Personally I find reading eBooks on a Kindle easier. The E Ink display is easy to see outdoors, and you can go weeks at a time without plugging in the Kindle, so you don’t have to worry about running down your battery the way you do with a smartphone.
But the main reason I prefer reading on a dedicated eReader is because I’m easily distracted. I already have a habit of putting down a book every twenty minutes or so to pick up my phone and check my email. It’s even tougher to resist that temptation if you can check your email on the same device you’re using to read a book.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of methods for finding free content for your Kindle eReader. But long story short, if you don’t like the idea of spending $69 on a piece of hardware that doesn’t come with any books (unless you count the user manual), don’t worry: you’ll find plenty to read, even if you never spend a penny on eBooks.
If you’ve been at this for a while, let us know what are some of your favorite methods for finding free (and legal) eBooks in the comments!