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The best free ebook download sites: from new bestsellers to classic Shakespeare

PRICE
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID
VERDICT
REASONS TO BUY
REASONS TO AVOID

If you’ve taken up digital reading recently, having picked up one of the best ereaders there are on the market, you’ll find that there are ways to fill up the device without having to spend a penny.

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. And sometimes, publishing companies make them available to a limited number of readers before a public release to get feedback.

The difficulty, however, 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 minimum hassle and no legal strings attached.

It’s worth remembering that the 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 such as annotations.

While EPUBs are the most common type of ebook file format most ereaders can display, you’ll find digital editions in other formats as well. So if you find an ebook in a format you need, you can convert it with free software like Calibre (opens in new tab). Please note that ebooks that are DRM protected cannot be converted.

So, without much ado, here are the best free ebook download sites to help you get lost in a good story.

Amazon First Reads picks for July 2021

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1. Amazon First Reads (opens in new tab)

A hidden treasure trove of new titles for your Kindle

It used to be called Kindle First Reads, but its rebranding has not changed what it truly is – a reading platform that gets you early access to newly released titles published by Amazon Publishing. Each month 10 new books are made available on First Reads – which you can get access to by signing up for the First Reads newsletter – and one of these is totally free for Amazon Prime subscribers. The rest of the new releases are available for a hugely discounted price. First Reads selections are announced on the first of each month, and you get the whole month to decide which title you want to read, after which the cycle begins anew.

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 an 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.

Amazon First Reads for US customers (opens in new tab)
Amazon First Reads for UK customers (opens in new tab)
Amazon First Reads for Australian customers (opens in new tab)

The Kobo eBook Store's free books section

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2. Kobo eBook Store (opens in new tab)

Over a million free ebooks for your Kobo

Kobo might make some of our favorite ereaders, but the company also has a vast store of ebooks and, the company claims, over a million of them are free. There’s a dedicated section (opens in new tab) for all the Kobo freebies on the website, with several of them being newly released titles.

You can even find the free ebooks on the Kobo Store by searching for author names, a book title or genre, then selecting 'only free items' under the price filter in the left sidebar of the search results.

Kobo’s freebies are usually for a very limited time and can change each day, so you’ll likely never run out of good reads for free. That said, the books you get from the Kobo Store, even the free ones, are DRM-protected and will be available to read only on your Kobo ereader or the Kobo ereader app for smartphones and tablets.

eBook store on Google Play

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3. Google Books (opens in new tab)

A vast catalogue of fiction and nonfiction EPUBs

Google Books (opens in new tab) can be a rabbit hole of self-published fiction and non-fiction titles, with several really great finds in there as well. However, the vast majority of the ebooks on Google Books are in the EPUB or PDF file format. So while that’s perfectly fine for Kobo users, Kindles don’t support EPUB and the file will need to be converted to MOBI before you start reading.

Being a Google undertaking, the store is easily accessible on a web browser or Android device, but you will need a Google account to register a card before you can access the freebies. Your card won’t be charged for the free ebooks and audiobooks, but it could put some potential users off.

Moreover, the Google Books interface wasn’t designed for free stuff. To locate them, you need to search for 'free books', which then gives you a vast catalogue of free reads. If you’re after a particular genre, you can search for that, plus the word 'free' (free fantasy or free history, for example). Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy enough to discover a veritable treasure trove of free books.

Project Gutenberg website

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4. Project Gutenberg (opens in new tab)

An immersive archive of world literature

Project Gutenberg (opens in new tab) (named after the printing press that democratized knowledge) is a huge archive of over 60,000 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 (opens in new tab).

Free-Ebooks.net website

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5. Free-Ebooks.net (opens in new tab)

A self-publishing platform that’s great for authors and readers alike

Free-Ebooks.net (opens in new tab) 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 the Kobo Store or Google 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).

Digital books are available as PDF, EPUB, Kindle and plain text files, though not all titles are available in all formats.

The ManyBooks website

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6. ManyBooks (opens in new tab)

A curated collection of free and discounted fiction and nonfiction books

At the time of writing, ManyBooks (opens in new tab) has over 50,000 titles in its library of both fiction and nonfiction. And a large part of that is available to download for free – from modern novels to classic literature. You’ll be able to find Grimms’ Fairy Tales alongside books from Agatha Christie and newer fantasy fiction. 

That’s because the vast majority of the books on the platform are seeded from Project Gutenberg, but a whole load of self-published titles have been added since the mid-2000s. They’re all available to browse in genres, all of which are listed on the homepage itself, making navigation easy.

One of the main reasons we like ManyBooks is because of the several ebook file formats available on the site. Most of the titles are available in the most common formats, including EPUB, MOBI and AZW, so you’ll be able to read on any ereader you might prefer. ManyBooks also lets you read online, if you prefer that route.

It’s also one of the few sites we know of that lets you filter books by language. You can also search by book title and author, but there’s also a curated 'editor’s choice' section if you’re looking for more choices. Downloading books, however, requires an account which can be created for free.

Feedbooks' free public domain catalogue

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7. Feedbooks (opens in new tab)

Plenty of originals available to download for free

Feedbooks (opens in new tab) came into being in 2007 as a digital library for public domain books as well as a cloud publishing service. So not only does this platform give you plenty of free classics to read – from Shakespeare to Homer to James Joyce – there are plenty of original books to choose from as well.

While it’s easy enough to access the free public domain ebooks on the site, finding the original content is harder. There’s an easy link to this category on the homepage under 'browse' but it doesn’t work. So you’ll need to trawl through a vast catalogue of digital books to find those marked down to cost nothing. It’s not the best user experience, but that extra bit of work might well be worth it if you find a story you can truly get lost in.

There are several genres as well, including short stories, so there’s likely going to be something here for everyone. And if you do choose to buy an ebook, Feedbooks displays the price in your local currency by picking up your IP address.

Smashwords website

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8. Smashwords (opens in new tab)

A self-publishing platform with several free reads

It’s one of the most well-organized free ebook sites you can find and, considering it’s essentially a self-publishing platform, there’s a lot you can read for free. Authors publishing via Smashwords use it to distribute their books and, at the time of writing, there are over 85,000 titles available. To narrow down your search, there’s a handy genre list on the side, and an equally handy filter bar on the top of the page to find 'highly rated' books or the bestsellers.

You will need to set up an account with Smashwords (opens in new tab) to download books – this is completely free and gives you full access to the platform. So if you’ve got some good words to share, you can get published… for free. Creating an account also allows you to leave reviews of the books you read, which can be really helpful to the authors.

Tor.com's ebook club signup

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9. Tor.com (opens in new tab)

Join the club and get a free ebook each month

Tor is a publishing company known for putting out science-fiction and fantasy fiction bestsellers like Robert Jordan’s Conan and Wheel of Time series, Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti books and Brandon Sanderson’s ongoing Stormlight Archive series. So it’s not really the obvious place to look for free ebooks, but you can get one new read each month for free.

All you have to do is join Tor’s book club. 

The Tor.com eBook Club (opens in new tab) sends out regular newsletters – that you can sign up for by filling out a form for free – with a link to download a particular book, whether a standalone or part of a series. However, the duration for which the book is available for free is very limited, typically just three days, so you will need to keep an eye on your inbox for the next newsletter.

The ebooks are available in EPUB and MOBI formats, so you should be able to read on any device, whether ereader or reading app on your phone or tablet.

It’s perhaps the best source of free reads that are not self-published, particularly if you’re a sci-fi or fantasy fiction fan.

OverDrive and its reading apps

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10. Your local library

Use OverDrive to borrow ebooks for free

The great thing about using Kindle and Kobo ereaders is that you get access to ebook catalogues of your local library too. The Kindle library borrowing feature, however, is limited only to the US, while Kobo’s baked-in OverDrive support will set you up in several other markets.

Almost 45,000 libraries worldwide have OverDrive support, which allows you to borrow ebooks and audiobooks, as long as you have a library card. Depending on the rules of your library, you get to 'borrow' an ebook or digital magazine for a specific period of time, after which you lose access, or you can 'renew', just like you would a physical book in a bricks-and-mortar library.

Don’t use either a Kindle or a Kobo device? Libby is the mobile version of OverDrive, so installing it on your phone or tablet will give you the ability to borrow ebooks from a supported local library you’re a member of.

Sharmishta Sarkar
Sharmishta Sarkar

Sharmishta is TechRadar's APAC Managing Editor and loves all things photography, something she discovered while chasing monkeys in the wilds of India (yes, she studied to be a primatologist but has since left monkey business behind). While she's happiest with a camera in her hand, she's also an avid reader and has become a passionate proponent of ereaders, having appeared on Singaporean radio to talk about the convenience of these underrated devices. When she's not testing cameras and lenses, she's discovering the joys and foibles of smart home gizmos. She also contributes to Digital Camera World and T3, and helps produce two of Future's photography print magazines in Australia.