Sam Holstein

How To Read Almost Any eBook for Free

One of the most popular pieces of advice on how to be successful is to read a lot. Bill Gates reads a lot, Ryan Holiday reads a lot, Barack Obama reads a lot, you get the picture.

But, you know what? Reading a lot is expensive. Expert readers recommend reading multiple books at a time, but — books are $12 a pop, meaning 50 books a year is $600 a year (that’s $50 a month). According to Holiday, this cost is worth it — and it is according to me too.

But, it doesn’t matter how much the cost is worth it if you simply don’t have a spare $50 in your paycheck (or you’re not yet sure the cost is worth it).

That’s all right. There are a surprising amount of ways to read books (physical, digital, and audiobooks) for free.

1. Go To Your Library

Let’s get this out of the way quick. Yes, you can drive over to your local physical library and get physical books and audiobooks. If you’re a lover of physical books who doesn’t have the money to drop on three hardcovers at a time, this is your best bet.

2. Use Libby

I read 80 or so books in 2018, and this is how I got around half of them. Libby is a digital library for your smartphone. They have digital books and audiobooks available from OverDrive’s library. Unlike OverDrive, which I don’t consistently use and sometimes confuses me, Libby has an extremely simple interface. And unlike most online libraries, Libby has popular and recent works, not only classics and Creative Commons works.

The best part about Libby — you don’t have to read on the Libby app. If you have an e-reader you like to read on, you can use Libby’s ‘Send To Device’ feature to read your books there. (I read on a Kindle, but Libby supports most e-readers).

To get Libby set up:

  1. Get a library card. In my case, this meant a one-time visit to my local library. You don’t need the card, you need the code or login that your local library provides, so if you can get that without a trip to your library, all the better.
  2. Make an OverDrive account.
  3. Add your library to that OverDrive account.
  4. Sign in to Libby with your OverDrive account.

Now you’re done! Welcome to a library of digital books and audiobooks you can access any time.

I have included Libby and not OverDrive itself on this list because I find the OverDrive app confusing. Libby makes it easy to place holds and send books to your ereader, and I never have to fiddle with signing in a dozen times.

3. Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is a library of books which are in the public domain. Mostly, these are old books — if you’re planning to read any of the classics, this is where you can get them for free. There are also some Creative Commons books in their library.

To do so, go to the website, search for the book you want, and then download it in the format you want. My recommendation is to download them in the Kindle format and drag-and-drop the file in your Kindle library.

There are a handful of other free libraries for ebooks (like Questia, ManyBooks and FreeComputerBooks) but I didn’t go over them specifically because they tend to contain the same public domain and Creative Commons works that Project Gutenberg has.


That’s it! It doesn’t take more than a day to set this up, but once you have, you have unlimited access to all the ebooks you could want for free. Take all those book savings and buy yourself a Kindle with the money, and you’ll be set for life.