In late May, BookExpo America week kicked off with IDPF’s annual Digital Book 2011 conference. Judging from the product announcements and buzz coming from the events, ebooks are hot, hot, hot! Kobo, which partners with Borders, announced that its new $130 e-ink touchscreen reading device would be available in June. Barnes & Noble announced a $139 black and white E Ink touchscreen ereader. Amazon dropped the price of its $189 3G Kindle with special offers to $164. Amazon also has reportedly told U.S. publishers it will begin accepting files in the EPUB format in the near future and these files will be readable on the Kindle. With the acceleration of sales of ebook readers and so much interest in ebooks, it seems like a good time to look at good sources to get free ebooks. I will also discuss free ereader software as an alternative to buying dedicated devices.
The majority of the free ebooks available are older, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books. Some sites, such as Amazon, offer newer free ebooks on limited time promotional offers. Barnes & Noble offers a limited number of Free Nook Books. The Sony Reader Store also offers some free ebooks.
Amazon’s Kindle Store has a section with almost 16,000 Kindle Popular Classics for free, such as Jane Austen novels, Sherlock Holmes, etc.
The Internet Archive (IA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded to build an internet library. It now includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages. Its ebook and text archive is here. Another way to find ebooks is to go to the Open Library site, a project of the IA that is working to create a web page for every book ever published. It’s more of a catalog but it aims to get you as close to the actual document you’re looking for—sometimes that is a scanned version courtesy of the Internet Archive. You can specify when you search “only show ebooks.” It also offers a free Internet Archive BookReader. Simply select “Read Online” when you find an ebook or download the software.
Google eBookstore: Best of the free (link to it from the main page)
The Google eBookstore, which launched in December 2010, offers a mix of some 3 million public domain and contemporary ebooks. There are many ebooks for sale, including current bestsellers, plus a wide selection of free, out-of-copyright titles. You can read Google eBooks offline using its mobile reader apps. Once you open a book, it will sync to your device and you can read it offline.
If you don’t have a mobile device or you want to read a book on your PC when it isn’t connected to the internet, you can download the ebook when you are connected. Public domain books can then be opened in any PDF or text reader, but books under copyright must be opened using the free Adobe Digital Editions. While you need to be online to open the book in Adobe Digital Editions, once you’ve opened the book, you can read books offline.
Project Gutenberg, the granddaddy of all ebook libraries, announced they have put 40,000 internally produced free ebooks online as of March 1. This raises the total to 100,000, as the project receives a number of ebooks from other producers worldwide. These figures even subtract 15,000 for various duplications. The site offers downloads in EPUB, Kindle, HTML, and simple text formats.
People who are comfortable with browsers can surf to the following sites and download Gutenberg’s ebooks: http://www.gutenberg.org and http://www.gutenberg.cc. The first site has most of the 40,000 ebooks created from the Project Gutenberg volunteers around the world and has ebooks in 60 languages in a variety of formats. The second site, Project Gutenberg Consortia Center, has ebooks in .PDF format, 100+ languages are represented, and it also includes some 15,000 from those at the first site. You can also do searches for Project Gutenberg of Canada, Australia, and Europe, for even more free ebooks. It also has offline book catalogs to download and use at home. And, to follow developments at Project Gutenberg, subscribe to the RSS feed for Project Gutenberg News.
Ereader Software Applications
There are a number of ereader software applications besides the Internet Archive BookReader. Amazon’s Kindle App is available for most PCs and mobile devices. Microsoft Reader is free software for any Windows-based device. Ibis Reader is an ebook reading system for your smartphone, netbook, and computer that reads DRM-free ebooks in the EPUB format.
For more information, check the helpful list of ereader resources at ipl2.
In January 2010, we covered the launch of Blio, a free ereading application that preserves “the image-rich format of books and magazines, including their layout, typesetting, images, color, and graphics, while also supporting full media functionally, including video, graphics, and web sites,” allowing users to more “fully enjoy the subtlety of design originally intended by the publisher.” Publishers’ Weekly recently reported that Blio has been released on Dell laptops and desktops; it will be released in the next 30–60 days for Android OS devices as well as for Android 3.0 “Honeycomb,” optimized for tablet devices. And, Blio for iOS4 for iPhone, iPad, and Mac devices is reportedly on the way; it’s been submitted to Apple and the company is waiting for approval.
If you find yourself stymied by wanting to read a text on an un-supported device, there’s Calibre. It is a free and open source ebook library management application developed by users of ebooks for users of ebooks. Calibre has a built-in ebook viewer that can display all the major ebook formats. It can convert from a huge number of formats to a huge number of formats. The full list of formats can be found here.
The always interesting TeleRead site has posted a “Catalog of Free e-books.” It also includes links to some free ebook blogs and it’s a good place to keep up on the news of ereaders.
Additional sources for ebooks are listed on MediaBistro’s eBook NEWSER. It also has a section of news about new free ebooks. For example, I learned that Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel is free in the iBookstore through June 14, and will be $4.99 after the promotion.