What types of sites offer books to read online?
When you are looking for books to read online, you will notice that there are several possibilities, which will be explained in more detail further down. For now, here are the main possibilities:
- Sites that offer free books to read online that are in the public domain because their copyright has expired.
- Sites that offer free books to read online because the author has offered their book for free because he or she wants to generate readership.
- Sites that offer free books to read online because they are libraries and they are just “lending” the books, which then have to be “returned”. These sites sometimes charge a monthly or yearly membership fee.
- Pirate sites that actually offer free books, but are a violation of the author’s copyright.
Many sites offer a mixture of the first three. If you have a local library and a library card, there is a good chance that they have an online lending service that you could be taking advantage of also.
When does copyright expire?
For the long answer to this question, check out the Wikipedia page on copyrights. The short answer is that, as of the time of this writing (2017), in the United States, all books and other works published before 1923 have expired copyrights. They are in the public domain. This means you can read them, distribute them, and enjoy them as you please. Also, works published prior to 1964 whose copyrights were not renewed 28 years after first publication year are in the public domain.
Why would a writer offer his/her work for free?
Authors who are just starting out might offer their books to read online for free because they want people to read them! They might, correctly or incorrectly, assume that once people read their books, they will become “hooked” and want to read more of their books, for which they will be willing to pay.
Because self-publication online is now so easy, many writers who might not have previously been able to afford to publish are now able to get their work to an audience.
Can I really read books online?
Yes. Now, more than ever, internet browsers are capable of displaying books in various formats. Even Amazon Kindle has a cloud reader available to read Kindle books online. However, if you prefer, you can download books to read on a desktop application or on your reading device such as your Kindle, Kobo, tablet, etc. (P.S. You can find low-cost and free Kindle books on Amazon here.)
On many of the sites where you can get books to read online, you need to choose “html” or “web presentation” in order to read the book online in your web browser. Alternately, you can download it as a pdf file and open it in your web browser. (continued…)
Sites where you can get books to read online or free ebooks to download and read at your leisure:
- Project Gutenberg – They were the first to make books available to read online. They have over 54,500 titles available.
- Online Books Page – From the University of Pennsylvania, there are two million titles here.
- Read Print – Thousands of free online books to read. This site is one of TIME magazine’s top 50 websites. What’s nice about this website is that it is more user friendly than some of the other sites. You can sign up for free to:
- Keep track of what you’ve read and books you’d like to read
- Discover new books and get recommendations
- Discuss books & join online book clubs & groups
- The Literature Network – They offer searchable online literature to read for the student, educator, or enthusiast.
- To find the work you’re looking for start by looking through the author index. They currently have over 3500 full books and over 4400 short stories and poems by over 260 authors.
- Their quotations database has over 8500 quotes, and
- they also have a quiz system that features over 340 quizzes, helpful for teachers and students alike.
- Have a question about literature? Why not ask it in their Literature Forums?
- Authorama – This site has taken many of the titles from Project Gutenberg and put them into a form that makes them even easier to read online making this an excellent place to go to find books to read online.
- International Children’s Digital Library – offers books to read online for children. This site is fascinating and unique about this site is that, rather than getting volunteers to type in the text of the books, the original books have been scanned in. What this means is that the pages are viewable including the original illustrations. Some of the books are very old and rare. This is a very interesting site for young and old bibliophiles alike!
- Sacred Texts – This site claims to contain the internet’s largest collection of free books about religion, mythology, folklore and the esoteric in general.
- Full Books – Thousands of full text free books to read online.
- Free Tech Books – Database of Free / Open Access Online Computer Science Books, Textbooks, and Lecture Notes.
- Free Computer Books – Free Computer, Mathematics, Technical Books and Lecture Notes, etc.
- Bartleby – Named after the famous Herman Melville character, this site offers “literature, reference and verse providing students, researchers and the intellectually curious with unlimited access to books and information on the web, free of charge.”
- Many Books – This site offers over 30,000 free books to read online or to download for free. They also offer low cost ebooks in a variety of genres.
- Librivox – Although this site does not exactly offer free books to read online, I thought it was worth a mention because they do offer free public domain audio books.
- Bibliomania – Free online literature and study guides. A great online literature resource for students and teachers.
- Internet Archive Ebooks and Texts – The Internet Archive and Open Library offers over 11,000,000 fully accessible books and texts. There is also a collection of 550,000 modern eBooks that may be borrowed or downloaded by the print-disabled at OpenLibrary.org.
- World Library – For a small fee (currently $8.95 per year), which they say is waived for people with special needs or disabilities, you can get a library card, which gives you access to over 3 million titles.
- Questia Public Library – Questia is an online commercial library of ebooks and electronic articles. It has an academic orientation, including a writing tutorial section. Its emphasis is on books and journal articles in the humanities and social sciences. Questia has paid a fee to the copyright owners for the items in their collection which are under copyright. The fee for using this library is currently $99.95 per year or $19.95 per month.
- Free-Ebooks.net – This site has many free ebooks to read online or you can download up to five for free per month. If you want to download more than five, there is a $7.95 per month fee or a one time $49.95 lifetime membership fee.
- Page by Page Books – They have hundreds of classic books to read online for free.
- KH Novel – I am reluctant to list this site because, although they do list some really excellent novels that you can read online for free, it seems to me that they are clearly violating copyright laws. I decided to list it because not everyone has easy access to a public library and you might not be able to afford to read these books. However, if you can afford it, you should really purchase them legitimately. If you purchase an ebook through Amazon, for example, you can not only read it with a Kindle, but also read it online.
- List of Many Other Sites – I have listed the most popular and best sites where you can find books to read online for free or for a low cost. However, there are hundreds of other sites where you can find online books to read. This site does a good job of listing these many other sites with a brief review of each one.
There is no shortage of sites that have books to read online for free. Many of these books are older books or classics. Some of them are very technical. Some of the newer ones are written by newer writers who might not be as skilled as some established writers.
Personally, I would stay away from sites that offer copyrighted works for free unless I was literally too poor to purchase books and had no access to a public library. This is because I love books and want to make sure that talented authors get paid for their work and are therefore able to continue to produce quality books! (continued…)
One thing that I personally do to get low-cost books is that I am a member of the Kindle Unlimited program. What I like about the program is that I pay a low, fixed cost per month and I have access to a ton of books. I find that most of the books that are worth reading in Kindle Unlimited tend to be very cutting edge books written by subject matter experts. For example, Seth Godin’s 2014 book, “Poke the Box,” is available for free with your Kindle Unlimited subscription. This is my affiliate link (I get $3 if you sign up — almost enough for coffee at Starbucks!): Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial
If you have any comments or ideas, I would love to hear them in the comments section below.