Now e-books are so popular, school librarians need to know where to acquire them. As well as the e-books which are commercially available there are thousands of ‘free’ e-books available online; some are free because they are classic works of literature and are out of copyright (UK copyright on a book expires once an author has been dead 70 years), others are self-published whilst some are intended by publishers to draw the reader in to make further purchases.
How to find free e-books & audiobooks
There are several different ways to obtain free e-books:
- If you look online there are lots of websites that offer e-books for free download
- You can loan e-books and other digital material for free from your local public library
- Your e-reader’s own bookstore offers free or discounted e-books.
All three options are discussed below with examples
- Project Gutenberg – the oldest, largest and best organized collection of classics anywhere on the internet
- DailyLit– takes a novel approach by serialising their e-books and sending you a chunk every day via email or RSS – a great way to fit reading into a busy work schedule.
- Feedbooks – has a juvenile and young adult section and clearly distinguishes their free classics selection from their free new works. Genres include westerns, war and military, short stories, mystery and adventure and include many famous authors such as Agatha Christie and Jules Verne
- Free ebooks.net – helps new authors publish and promote their e-books by providing the necessary tools and service for a small fee
- Manybooks.net – provides a well-maintained free e-book list for all device types. Book excerpts and reader reviews are provided and there is an option to download large print PDFs
There are a number of places you can download audiobooks for free. Many of the audiobook sites you can find on the internet let you download classic books in the public domain for free, but some sites have better quality books than others. Good places to look include Project Gutenberg and LibriVox.org. Spotify now has a playlist of audiobooks added to its repertoire. Again, most of them are classic works in the public domain. They don’t have nearly as many titles as sites like Project Gutenberg and LibriVox, but if you’re already a Spotify user, accessing the books is super easy. Just hit up the playlist.You can listen to audiobooks on Spotify with a free account, but you will have to listen to ads at the beginning of each title. If you subscribe to a premium account, you can listen without ads. NewFixtion is in a category all to itself. It doesn’t have many titles, but what it does have are original stories delivered in daily episodes. Each episode is voiced by trained actors, which gives it a more rounded feeling. It’s really more like listening to an old-time radio drama than simply having a book read to you.You can’t download titles from NewFixtion, though. You have to listen to them through your desktop or mobile browser. DigitalBook, formerly Librophile, lets you search through a database of public domain books from places like Librivox, Gutenberg, Open Library, and also includes books from Amazon (and Audible). Although not all books are free, a large number of them are – they boast a catalog of over 100,000 free audiobooks and eBooks. LearnOutLoud is home to thousands of free audiobooks ranging from fiction to educational. In addition to audiobooks, LearnOutLoud gives access to some of the best audio and video learning content on the web, including courses, documentaries, lectures, interviews, and speeches.
The following are a few recommended sites where you can find free e- books particularly for children.
- Children’s Books Online – this Rosetta Project site is an online library of antique illustrated children’s books. The books and translations are indexed by reading level and language
- Classic Reader – has a special section for young readers with more than 200 of the world’s best loved classics.
- Fiction.us – includes the classics, short stories, novels and plays for older children. The site also has a small collection of picture books for younger readers
- International Children’s Digital Library – the ICDL is a multicultural digital library for children. It has an outstanding collection of children’s books from around the world in English and many other languages. The books here are not your typical bookstore fare, but many are award winning stories that children will love and are sorted by age group, type, genre, and length.
- Magic Keys – offers free illustrated e-books for children of all ages. Storybooks are separated into three categories: young children, older children, and young adult. Other site offerings include online games, jigsaw puzzles, and interactive colouring pages.
- Read Print – hosts thousands of free e-books and poems, many of which are suitable for children.
2. Public libraries:
If you are a member you can borrow not only e-books and audio books but newspapers, magazines and more recently comics and graphic novels for free from your local public library. It is a quick and easy process and you can download to a PC, Mac, smartphone, eReader or MP3 player, and the great thing is that there are no overdue charges as digital books automatically expire at the end of the loan period. Please note, however, that due to Amazon’s restrictions the Kindle is not compatible with most public library programmes here in the UK.
Unfortunately institutions cannot become public library members as the service is intended for personal use only, but that should not stop school librarians encouraging individual pupils to register because there are great advantages to be had. Sarah Pavey, when she was librarian at Box Hill School in Surrey, paved the way by successfully encouraging all 400 pupils at her school to join Surrey County Council’s virtual library as part of her e-revolution programme. What a great way to support our public libraries in this time of cut -backs and closures! Public libraries also stock a wide range of useful online information/ homework/ reference resources that pupils can access from home such as the Encyclopedia Britannica and World Book – the annual subscriptions for which not many Prep School libraries can afford!
3. Your e-reader’s own bookstore:
Major e-reader bookstores often have free (or very discounted) e-books as well as classics that are in the public domain and promotional titles that are often free for a limited time. For example, Amazon has over 15,000 classics in their public domain and hundreds of promotional titles at any given time.
Amazon Kindle/ Amazon Prime
Amazon customers who pay a monthly fee for the Amazon prime service can get unlimited access to a selection of free audiobooks each month in addition to Prime Reading Eligible Kindle Books. Unfortunately Amazon doesn’t make it particularly clear where to find the list of audiobooks available free to borrow for Prime members. In most cases you need to download the ebook before you can get the audiobook. Prime eligible ebooks show a Prime logo in the buy box that says, “Included with your membership”. Books that also have a matching Prime eligible audiobook will show a box that says, “Read and Listen for Free”. If the audiobook isn’t part of Prime it will just say, “Read for Free”.