6 places to find free and discounted e-books

If your book budget is limited, fear not: You can score a surprising amount of good stuff for free or cheap.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read

Do you like to read? Awesome. Do you have limited funds? Welcome to the club. Obviously your local library is the best option if you want to read for free, but is it the only one? Definitely not. Below I've rounded up six sources of free and/or discounted e-books, which you can read just about anywhere thanks to phones , tablets and e-readers.

Amazon Prime

Are you an Amazon Prime subscriber? Then you're entitled to more than just free 2-day shipping and Prime Instant Video streaming; that subscription also affords a variety of free e-book options.

For starters, you get access to the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, which lets you check out one e-book per month and read that book on any Kindle e-reader or Fire tablet. The catch: This particular library offers a relatively small selection, so don't expect a lot of new titles or bestsellers. 


Each month, Amazon Prime subscribers get to pick a free e-book as part of the Kindle First program.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

Next, there's Kindle First: Each month, Amazon editors curate six new, yet-to-be-released books and give Prime subscribers the chance to pick one of them -- for free. And it's for keeps, too; you're not just borrowing the book. 

Finally, there's Prime Reading, which differs from the Lending Library in a few key ways. First, it's not limited to Kindles: You can access the catalog of free e-books on phones, tablets and anything else capable of running a Kindle app. Second, the selection includes not only books, but also a rotating selection of magazines, comics, travel guides, Kindle Singles and more. 


BookBub exists solely to inform you of free and discounted e-books. When you sign up for an account, you choose one or more preferred categories: crime fiction, romantic suspense, literary fiction, sci-fi and so on. Then you can get a daily or weekly email listing new deals that match your tastes.

Of course, you can also just browse the site. At this writing, for example, Nick Hornby's "Funny Girl," Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" and Alice Walker's "Meridian" are all on sale for $1.99 each in the US (roughly £1.50 and AU$2.50). 

Hoopla Digital

Got a library card? Then you may be able to sign up for Hoopla Digital, which allows you to check out a fixed number of e-books per month. You'll need the Hoopla app to read them -- it's available for Android, iOS and Fire -- and it lets you browse and borrow books directly.


Hoopla Digital lets you check out e-books -- provided you have a library card.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

I won't say the selection is fabulous, but there's a lot of good stuff for tweens and young adults (Jeff Kinney, Rick Riordan, etc.), along with the occasional modern bestseller (Viet Thanh Nguyen's "The Sympathizer," for example).

As an added bonus, Hoopla also lets you check out audiobooks, movies and music. ("Hamilton" soundtrack, anyone?)


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Library-powered OverDrive usually has a great selection of titles, but you may have to wait to get the ones you want.

Screenshot by Rick Broida/CNET

If your library doesn't offer Hoopla, there's a good chance it's hooked up with OverDrive instead. (I'm lucky: My library offers both.) Although fundamentally similar (it offers audiobooks as well as e-books), OverDrive's catalog is dictated by your library -- which is to say it may offer fewer titles overall, but possibly more current ones.

Alas, as with a library's physical copies, there's only a fixed number of each title to go around; you may have to get on a waitlist to borrow one you want. But once it's available, you usually have the choice between getting an EPUB version or downloading it to your Kindle library (for reading via the app or device of your choice).

Project Gutenberg

There are thousands of ebooks available in the public domain, meaning their copyrights have expired and therefore you can access them for free. Project Gutenberg is one resource (of many) that digitizes and catalogs these books; the library currently contains over 55,000 titles.

Start with the site's list of the most popular public-domain books, which includes Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Most titles are provided in a variety of formats, including EPUB, HTML and Kindle.


Riffle is a book-discovery service similar to GoodReads, but it also shares something in common with BookBub: an optional daily email digest listing free or discounted books based on your interests.

I use both services, and there's surprisingly little overlap between the two. (Your mileage may vary, of course.) If you're interested in more than just book deals -- like finding a book's community and recommendations -- Riffle is worth a look.

Have you found any other great sources for free and/or discounted e-books? Name them in the comments!