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Score the best deals on iPhone e-books

No doubt about it: e-books are overpriced. But you can score some cheap, and even free, deals if you know where to look. Here's how to save big on books for your iPhone.

Stanza: download 10 free e-books from Random House and thousands more from other sources.

I love reading books on my iPhone, but I don't love e-book prices. I mean, digital content requires no printing, binding, shipping, storage, or heavy lifting--so why does Amazon charge the same price for the Kindle edition of "The Kite Runner" as for the paperback?

That's a debate for another day (though let me go on record saying I'd buy a lot more e-books if they were priced in the $1 to $4 range). For now, let's look at ways you can read on the cheap--or, at least, the cheaper--on your iPhone.

  • Look for freebies Stanza, one of my favorite e-book viewers (just acquired by Amazon, incidentally), connects you with thousands of freebies. For example, check out the Random House Free Library, which currently stocks 10 mainstream e-books. (Best bet: Charlie Huston's superb crime-noir series, which starts with "Caught Stealing.") Meanwhile, there's Google Book Search, a browser-based solution that connects you to a whopping 1.5 million public-domain books. Point Safari to
  • Look for deals E-bookseller Fictionwise already discounts its e-books, but you can stretch your dollar even further by setting up a "Micropay" account (i.e., a debit account). Most books come with a Micropay rebate, meaning you get 10 percent to 15 percent of the purchase price added back to your account. But sometimes Fictionwise runs rebate specials, as it's doing right now with J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" series: Buy any/all of the books and you get back 100 percent. You can read Fictionwise e-books using eReader or Stanza. (Just make sure to choose titles that are available in the Secure eReader format.)
  • Try before you buy Amazon's Kindle app lets you read free of charge the entire first chapter of any book in the Kindle Store. That's a great way to see if you like a book before plunking down your $10. However, you can't browse the store from within the app: You have to queue up your sample chapters from your browser. Not so with Shortcovers, an e-book viewer with a built-in bookstore that offers sample chapters for many titles (but only forewords for others).
  • Kindle: read a sample chapter of any book in Amazon's library before you spend your money.
  • Shop around Prices sometimes vary from one bookseller to another. For example, I went looking for Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" (just for comparison purposes, mind you!). Amazon's price: $6.04. Shortcovers: $6.34. Fictionwise: $9.89 after Micropay rebate. (That wasn't always the breakdown: sometimes Fictionwise had the lowest price.) Even if you save just a buck or two by shopping around, it adds up over time. And there's no law against using multiple e-book apps on your iPhone if necessary.
  • Buy e-book collections Classics2Go serves up 35 e-books for 99 cents, while the featured-in-iPhone-commercials Classics offers 20 for the same price. Of course, these are public-domain works like "Gulliver's Travels" and "Pride and Prejudice"--stuff you promised yourself you'd read someday, right? It's never been easier--or cheaper.

Read any good e-books lately? Scored any good deals? Give me your thoughts on e-books and what you think is a fair pricing model. Hey, maybe I'm just being cheap.