There are thousands of ebooks available to download legally – either because their copyright has expired, or because their authors have chosen to release them without charge. The difficulty is tracking down exactly what you want in the correct format, and avoiding anything poorly written or formatted. We’ve searched through the masses of sites to bring you the very best places to download free, high-quality ebooks with the minimum of hassle.
It’s worth remembering that absence of a price tag doesn’t necessarily mean that the book is in the public domain; unless explicitly stated otherwise, the author will retain rights over it, including the exclusive right to distribute it. Similarly, even if copyright has expired on an original text, certain editions may still be in copyright due to editing, translation, or extra material like annotations.
If an ebook isn’t available in the format you need, you can convert it with Epubor Ultimate Ebook Converter (though not DRM-protected files).
If you're new to ebooks, check out our guide to the best free ebook readers to make sure you get the best experience
An immense archive of literature from around the world
Project Gutenberg (named after the printing press that democratized knowledge) is a huge archive of over 53,000 books in EPUB, Kindle, plain text, and HTML. You can download them directly, or have them sent to your preferred cloud storage service (Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive).
You can search for a specific title or browse by genre (books in the same genre are gathered together in bookshelves). It’s a shame that fiction and non-fiction aren’t separated, and you have to open a bookshelf before you can sort books by country, but those are fairly minor quibbles.
The site itself is available in English, German, French, Italian, and Portuguese, and the catalog includes books in all languages. There’s a heavy bias towards English-language works and translations, but the same is true of all the ebook download sites we’ve looked at here.
Project Gutenberg is a wonderful source of free ebooks – particularly for academic work. However, it uses US copyright law, which isn’t universal; some books listed as public domain might still be in copyright in other countries. RightsDirect explains the situation in more detail.
A hidden treasure trove of free ebooks, ready to sync with your Kindle
Despite its name, most books listed on Amazon Cheap Reads for Kindle are completely free to download and enjoy. You’ll find not only classic works that are now out of copyright, but also new books from authors who have chosen to give away digital editions. There are a few paid-for books though, and there’s no way to separate the two
Unlike Project Gutenberg, which gives all books equal billing, books on Amazon Cheap Reads are organized by rating to help the cream rise to the surface. However, five stars aren’t necessarily a guarantee of quality; many books only have one or two reviews, and some authors are known to rope in friends and family to leave positive feedback.
As you’d expect, free ebooks from Amazon are only available in Kindle format – users of other ebook readers will need to convert the files – and you must be logged into your Amazon account to download them.
If you’re already invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, its assortment of freebies are extremely convenient. As soon as you click the Buy button, the ebook will be sent to any Kindle ebook readers you own, or devices with the Kindle app installed. However, converting Kindle ebooks to other formats can be a hassle, even if they’re not protected by DRM, so users of other readers are better off looking elsewhere.
A self-publishing platform that's brilliant for authors and readers like
Free-Ebooks.net is a platform for independent authors who want to avoid the traditional publishing route. You won’t find Dickens and Wilde in its archives; instead, there’s a huge array of new fiction, non-fiction, and even audiobooks at your fingertips, in every genre you could wish for. There are many similar sites around, but Free-Ebooks.net is our favorite, with new books added every day.
Because this site is dedicated to free books, there’s none of the hassle you get with filtering out paid-for content on Amazon or Google Play Books. We also love the fact that all the site’s genres are presented on the homepage, so you don’t have to waste time trawling through menus. Unlike the bigger stores, Free-Ebooks.net also lets you sort results by publication date, popularity, or rating, helping you avoid the weaker titles that will inevitably find their way onto open publishing platforms (though a book has to be really quite poor to receive less than four stars).
Ebooks are available as PDF, EPUB, Kindle and plain text files, though not all titles are available in all formats.
Google's store is full of self-published fiction, but the interface lets it down
Ebooks on Google Play Books are only available as EPUB or PDF files, so if you own a Kindle you’ll need to convert them to MOBI format before you can start reading.
The store is easily accessible via any web browser or Android device, but you’ll need to create a Google Play account and register a credit card before you can download anything. Your card won’t be charged, but you might find it off-putting.
It’s disappointing that there’s no convenient menu that lets you just browse freebies. Instead, you have to search for your preferred genre, plus the word ‘free’ (free science fiction, or free history, for example). It works well enough once you know about it, but it’s not immediately obvious.
Most free books on Google Play are new titles that the author has self-published via the platform, and some classics are conspicuous by their absence; there’s no free edition of Shakespeare’s complete works, for example.
If you’re looking for some fun fiction to enjoy on an Android device, Google’s bookshop is worth a look, but Play Books feel like something of an afterthought compared to the well developed Play Music.
Wikipedia-style crowd-sourced reference books that work best in a browser
You won’t find fiction here – like Wikipedia, Wikibooks is devoted entirely to the sharing of knowledge.
Wikibooks is a collection of open-content textbooks, which anyone with expertise can edit – including you. Unlike Wikipedia articles, which are essentially lists of facts, Wikibooks is made up of linked chapters that aim to teach the reader about a certain subject.
It’s easy to search Wikibooks by topic, and there are separate sections for recipes and childrens’ texbooks. You can download any page as a PDF using a link provided in the left-hand menu, but unfortunately there’s no support for other formats. There’s also Collection Creator – a handy tool that lets you collate several pages, organize them, and export them together (again, in PDF format). It’s a nice feature that enables you to customize your reading material, but it’s a bit of a hassle, and is really designed for readers who want printouts. The easiest way to read Wikibooks is simply to open them in your web browser.
Wikibooks is a useful resource if you’re curious about a subject, but you couldn’t reference it in academic work. It’s also worth noting that although Wikibooks’ editors are sharp-eyed, some less scrupulous contributors may plagiarize copyright-protected work by other authors. Some recipes, for example, appear to be paraphrased from well-known chefs.
- Looking for a new way to enjoy your ebooks? Take a look at our guide to the best free ebook readers