If your vacation plans include a little light summer reading, you couldn’t ask for lighter fare this year. Most of us won’t be packing any physical books to go along on our vacations; we’ll just whip out some kind of device and download something. But while the downloads might be wispier than air itself, most books, digital downloads or not, still come with a hefty price tag.
The top book right now on the New York Times Bestseller list is The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, and it goes for $13.63 hardcover from Amazon or $13.88 from Barnes and Noble, $9.43 for paperback at both retailers and $9.99 for the Kindle or Nook editions. Considering that a movie ticket to see the Hollywood version will likely run you more than any of those options, you’re not getting such a bad deal.
But what if you want some cheaper options? How does free strike you? How about $1? Here are a few ways to get free or low cost eBooks that you might actually want to read:
Daily Free Kindle Books
Amazon offers a wide selection of free eBook deals in the Kindle format. It’s almost impossible to keep up with them all, but you can always look at an aggregator like dealnews (where, yes, I’m the editorial director) to spotlight the better books to snag. Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle, you can get the free reader and put it on your Mac, PC, iPhone, Android phone, iPad or other tablet.
Free Nook Books
While Amazon’s free Kindle downloads seems endless, Barnes and Noble is no slouch in this department either. The site has a clearly marked category for free Nook books and you can just browse until you find something you like. As with the Kindle, you can just download the free reading app to any device.
Free Books From Other Merchants
There are also free books available for the Kobo eReader and the Sony Reader Store, plus Apple‘s iBooks and Google’s eBookstore. All of these have free reading apps available for your phone, tablet or laptop, so you can indulge even if you have a Nook or a Kindle for your main reading device.
Borrow from a Friend
While no eReaders have made it particularly easy to lend books to other human beings like you can with real books, you can actually do it. Look for books that are marked for lending on whatever system you use. The more ambitious among us set up social media strategies to game the system, like listing the books you have available to lend on Facebook and asking your friends to do the same. You can also set up a buying collective, which was actually suggested to me by a Barnes and Noble customer service rep. What you do is share an account among several people, and any book one of you buys is available to the others with the account info. This works best among families and close friends that trust each other with access to credit card information.
Borrow from a Stranger
This is kind of like leaving a book behind in the hotel library for another guest to use. There are several online collectives, like bookfriend.me, and you can also do searches on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for people sharing books. Nook users have the head start here, since the Nook has always had this feature, but Kindle users are catching up.
Borrow from the Library
If you have a tablet or smartphone or Nook with the free Overdrive app, and a library card to a system with a healthy digital collection, this couldn’t be easier. You can download books and audio books in a few simple clicks, and then don’t worry about the return process as they just expire in 2 to 3 weeks.
Read a Classic
If you want to get caught up on all the great books that you missed in college, Barnes and Noble and Amazon offer a good stock of public domain titles. Also look for free phone/tablet apps that come with hundreds already loaded, but note that many of these will try to upsell you once you get a little taste of the free. You’ll find less of that marketing influence on sites like Project Gutenberg and Google’s Free eBook section.
Sample Free Kids Books
Many phone/tablet apps are also available with kiddie picture books (both flip-book and audio versions), like TouchyBooks for Kids. You typically get one free story and then are constantly bombarded with prompts to upgrade. If you go this route, make sure that your child does not know your password for purchasing on your device, or you will end up charged for whatever they click on.
Scour Author Websites and Publisher Websites
It’s not just the big guns that offer free downloads. Individual publishers also give away their wares to lure in more readers, like the University of Chicago Press just did with the offer of David K. Johnson’s The Lavender Scare. Or, you can go direct to the source. Media-savvy authors who create their own websites often have stories and sometimes whole novels available for download on their sites.
“The freebies are to help people who get to my website to see what I’m like as a writer: a time honored sales technique I believe in,” says dealnews writer Tobias Buckell, a science fiction novelist of titles like Crystal Rain and Tides from New Worlds who also now markets his short stories on paid sites. “I think, in this day and age, short stories are poised for a come back. Here you are in line at the post office, you have 15 minutes, why not read a story on your phone or kindle? Or over your lunch break? A single shot short story for 99 cents, much like the cup of coffee or a soda, will last you a couple hours. If its a really good story, it might linger for longer than that sugar or caffeine jolt.”
Amazon has a revived interest in short stories, launching its Kindle Singles program, and that’s revving up interest from publishers and authors to push out short-form fiction and investigative journalism as singles available for free or for as low as 99 cents. Nook is also in the game (but you have to search around for the single stories) as well as sites like Smashwords for independent authors. Some novelists are releasing chapters of books as well as individual short stories. You can pick up some great reads that will keep you occupied on a train ride or between dips in the pool for less than the price of the drink that you sip while reading.
Richard Sanders, a former magazine editor turned author, recently decided to make an adapted chapter of his new novel Dead Line available for free under the title, Unspoken Words, Unanswered Questions. He says, “The problem for any writer today is grabbing people’s attention, and it’s especially difficult for indie writers because we have no budget for marketing and promotion. So offering free books and stories is becoming an increasingly popular way of getting people to read your stuff, hopefully buying your other things and spreading word about something they like. I guess you can call it slow viral marketing.” In the first few days, he’s gotten close to 300 downloads.
He adds, “Sure, not all indie books are going to be great. But many are. You have nothing to lose, and maybe a good, unexpected read to gain.”