There's never been a better time to be a cheapskate. Instead of buying CDs, you can stream almost any song ever recorded without paying a penny.
Instead of expensive DVD box sets, you can get entire series online for free. Movies new and old are mere clicks away, with no admission fee bar the odd advert.
Established authors want you to flick the pages of virtual editions of their work, while up-and-coming writers hope that free copies now will make you a lifelong fan later.
Getting free content couldn't be easier – and it's all perfectly legal. Who needs dodgy downloads when there's a lifetime's worth of legal stuff to consume first?
The best free ebooks
The web is awash with things to read, but even the best pieces of writing online have usually been chopped into pieces and plastered with adverts. If you'd rather lose yourself in a book, there's no shortage of content to choose from – and you're not limited to the ancient, out-of-copyright titles on Project Gutenberg either.
One of the best places to start is Matthew McClintock's site Manybooks.net, which collates ebooks from a wide range of sources and provides download links via the website and its associated RSS feeds. The emphasis is largely on older publications – you won't find the latest Dan Brown novel here – but the choice is enormous. We particularly like the banned books category.
Few mainstream publishers offer free downloads of entire books, so science fiction and fantasy publisher Baen Books deserves enormous credit for its library of published novels. As Baen's Eric Flint explained back in 2000, Baen is giving away books to fight piracy: "I'm quite confident that any 'losses' I sustain will be more than made up for by the expansion in the size of my audience," he wrote. Nine years on, Baen's still adding books to the list of freebies.
Magazine publishers are beginning to embrace free content too. Both www.issuu.com and www.iudu.com attempt to recreate the printed magazine experience in your web browser – we use the former to showcase features on the PC Plus website – and while the available publications tend to be niche titles, a bit of browsing uncovers plenty of little gems.
FREEBIES: Issuu delivers a traditional magazine experience inside your web browser
Everyone's an author
You'll find lots of PowerPoint presentations and documents about running electrical substations on Scribd, but the so-called 'YouTube of Print' also provides access to an enormous catalogue of fiction and non-fiction books.
One problem with sites like this is their accessibility. The fact that anybody can upload means the odd bit of piracy and a lot of pretty bad writing.
If you like the idea of discovering new authors but don't want to wade through the dross, HarperCollins' Authonomy might be the solution. It's a cross between a publishing platform and a social network, with aspiring authors uploading their work and rating others' efforts. Books are free to read, and if you don't mind reading works in progress – few of the available books have been edited by professional editors – you might just discover the next blockbuster author.
If you're too busy to read entire manuscripts, try www.dailylit.com. It takes an interesting approach to online reading: instead of giving you the entire book, it chops it up into daily instalments and delivers it via email or RSS. There are more than 800 free books to choose from – from self-help to science fiction.
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