Monday, February 21, 2011

Kindle and Calibre - Free Books

Everyone likes a freebie, and with the Kindle I can actually read freebies without eyestrain. And so I'm going to list a few of my sources of free ebooks, so you have an idea of where to go to get free books if you want to join in. The Calibre side of this is pretty simple, actually. Any ebook that isn't in Kindle format and doesn't have DRM (Digital Rights Management) on it can be converted to Kindle format with Calibre. I've actually learned how to create and edit ePub files myself, then convert them to mobi format to upload to the Kindle. But more on that later. itself has a bunch of free books, they can be found here. They have two distinct collections of free books. First is the classics, which are in the public domain and always available, and the other is a collection of limited time offers. The limited time offers change on a nearly daily basis, and some of them are only available for a few hours, so it's best to snag those the instant you see them.

If you don't have a Kindle, there are a number of different Kindle applications that will allow you to read Kindle books on your favorite device. Before I got a Kindle, I used Kindle for PC to download a handful of free books, but I couldn't read them very well because of the eyestrain problem. When I registered my Kindle the first time, those books were automatically uploaded to my Kindle, giving me a nice starting place to read.

Of course, Amazon is hardly the only source of free e-books online. The biggest and bestest would be Gutenberg, a repository for out-of-copyright works saved in digital formats that are easy to work with. A lot of those books already have Kindle editions ready, and they can be downloaded and added to Calibre with ease. Best of all, no DRM so you don't have to worry about whether or not the book will open on any new device you get.

One of my favorite sites to get free e-books is The care that has gone into making these out-of-copyright books into nicely formatted reads often shows quite plainly. I love getting huge omnibus editions of a writer's works, for instance this Oz Omnibus. I've found that the best way to get the most from MobileRead is to look for the HTML link over on the upper right, where it says "Full List", and open that file in a browser window. Then I can find neat stuff by scanning down the list.

I would be amiss if I didn't mention the Baen Free Library. This was started many years ago by Jim Baen (bless and rest his soul) who believed that most people would rather be honest than dishonest, but DRM was so restrictive that people would be driven to pirated material in disgust if they couldn't get what they wanted from an official source. And he strove to make sure that every e-book he published was exactly what a customer would want. Then he went a step further and started to give away ebooks, usually the first book or two of an ongoing series. That was the Free Library, and it's continued ever since. And if that weren't enough, then Baen started giving out CDs with hardcover books, CDs that readers were encouraged to share that often included pretty much an entire series of books. Yes, it's legal. Yes, Baen knows about it. The books are provided in a variety of formats, making it easy to read them on just about any device you can imagine.

Frankly, between just those sites there's enough material to keep me reading for many more months, but there are a handful of other sites that are useful as well. ManyBooks has a few nice free books, although a lot of its archive is from Gutenberg originally. Smashwords has a lot of original books for free. The site is a publishing platform for independent publishers and authors, so you may find all kinds of interesting stuff there.

If you want a one-stop sort of site, Inkmesh might be your place to go. The site is an ebook search engine, and includes easy links for a number of free ebook sites.

A couple of sites that will help you monitor free books are Daily Cheap Reads and eReaderIQ.

And that's just the ones I can think of right now. Many authors provide either free books or samples on their personal websites. also offers samples of almost all Kindle books, usually the first 10% of the book.

Update: A new site called Open Books offers a few books that are free, but more importantly, all the books linked from the site are free from DRM, so they can be read on any reader.

Update: NetGalley offers books for free, but there are a few caveats. The first is that these are review copies, not always fully edited. The next is that the publisher really wants you to write a review and post it somewhere. The last is that there is no guarantee that the publisher will choose to give you a review copy. I've gotten a couple of books through them so far, and both have been excellent in their own ways.

So, that's my free ebook sites. Do you know of any other sites that offer free ebooks on a regular basis that you might want to add to my list?

As this is an archive for my own use as much as my readers, here's a list of links to the sites I find useful that I might update if anyone adds any more useful sites in the comments.


Garrett said...

I would be remiss if I didn't point over at, which turns public domain books into public domain audiobooks. (Darn, it's been a while since I've recorded for them...)

Tegan said...

Hmm. Yes, but I am not an audio person. I can't seem to really get into podcasts, and if a book is performed for me, it ought to be really really well performed. And the one librivox book I started to listen to was painfully badly read. So I'm afraid it doesn't make my list, despite other folks swearing by it.