Satisfy Your Book-Loving Soul with Free and Cheap E-Books

I’m a book nerd. I’ve been a voracious reader since I sat on my Mom’s lap and started telling her what the storybooks said.

If you aren’t careful, reading can be an expensive hobby.

In my younger more spendthrift days, I would easily spend $1000 a year on pleasure reading…and that’s in the days when paperbacks ran $4.99. Books made up a huge part of my entertainment budget.

Working for a used bookstore company for seventeen years helped a lot. I picked up plenty of discounted or even free reading material.

When I left the bookstores, I still needed fun things to read. By then, though, I was hooked on reading e-books on the Kindle rather than physical books. Not only did my Kindle take up a lot less space than my physical library, but it also marked my place far more effectively than a physical bookmark (especially if I had to find the right book.)

Again, e-books can be an expensive habit. Plus, e-books bring in the problem of instant gratification. Finish a book you love? The Kindle shows you the next book in the series or similar works, all available with a single click.

And, unlike physical copies, you can’t mitigate e-book costs by trading or selling the books you’ve finished.

Any self-respecting tech-addicted frugal book nerd needs a terrific supply of free and cheap e-books. Fortunately, there are a ton of resources that can help feed an e-book habit. Here are some of the ones I use to feed mine.

Finding Free and Cheap E-Books: The Basics

First, this post only addresses e-books. If you prefer physical books or a mix of physical and e-books, I have a different post for that called 11 Ways I Satisfy My Book Addiction Without Going Broke.

Secondly, one of the keys to finding free and cheap E-Books is being flexible in your reading habits. If you absolutely must read a specific book, particularly something new, and you insist on reading it right away, then you’re going to pay full price. If you are willing to wait for your favorites to go on sale, you may be able to find a bargain eventually.

However, your best bet for finding solid reading material at bargain prices is to be willing to explore new authors and titles that might appeal to you as you see them. If you look for something fun to read without a preconceived notion of what that might be, I guarantee you can pretty much always find something you’ll enjoy reading for $5 or less, and usually under $3.

Just beware: downloading a bunch of inexpensive books doesn’t actually save you money unless they replace more expensive ones. Unless you stick strictly to free books, watch your spending. $2.99 a day still ends up costing over $1000 a year. Personally, I limit my bargain book purchases to what I can come up with in gift cards from Swagbucks.

Local Library E-Book Collection

  • Price: Free
  • Selection: Wide and static. Fiction in all genres, nonfiction, and youth and children’s titles. Sometimes audiobooks. May be lacking if you read more obscure titles, and will probably have fewer titles and copies than if you check out physical books from the library.
  • Quality: High quality, especially if you like popular books and bestsellers.
  • Drawbacks: May have to get on wait list for titles, which can take months. Browse functions on some library sites can be awkward. Library may only have books or audiobooks in specific formats, which may or may not mesh with your e-reader.

The Wake County Library has a terrific selection of e-books available for download, and a lot of other libraries do the same.  I’m a big fan. I go on the site, find a book I want, and voila! Instant download. 

Best of all, the book automatically returns itself in 2 weeks. I don’t have to worry about late fees or last-minute trips to drop books off. Sometimes the two-week time frame is a problem, and sometimes I end up reading a series out of order as books move from my waitlist to my queue.

Still, I find the library to be absolutely the best source for free e-books available. If you want a specific book, particularly something new and currently popular, then a public library download is probably your best bet. Just be prepared to wait for a copy of your favorites to be available.

Amazon

Amazon Prime Benefits

  • Price: $99 a year, but includes movie subscription, free shipping, and other benefits
  • Selection: Lots of categories (even magazines and graphic novels), but not a ton of books compared to the total Amazon catalog,
  • Quality: Mixed. You can find terrific books and total dreck. Leans heavily toward self-published titles rather than best sellers.
  • Drawbacks: Can be hard to weed out the good stuff from the utter crap, and the search process is painful. Kindle-centric so may be less appealing if you use a different e-book reader.

Most Amazon Prime members are not joining for the book benefits, and frankly, they aren’t good enough to influence anyone to use the service. If you have the service anyway, though, you can get a number of e-books at no extra cost each month. Amazon has three reading programs for Prime members.

Amazon First: A curated selection of new books in different categories, mostly by people you’ve never heard of. Prime members can pick one each month, which is yours forever.

Prime Reading: A wide selection of books and magazines Prime Readers can borrow. Some are terrific and popular books, but there’s a lot of mediocre stuff too. You can check out up to 10 titles.

Amazon Prime Lending Library: Prime members can borrow one book a month. You have to return the previous book before you can check out a new one. The selection is a little different than the Prime Reading selection, and it can be hard to find qualifying books.

Amazon Specials and Discounted Books

  • Price: Lower than full price? I’ve seen “discounted” books listed for $9.99. I’ve also found freebies.
  • Selection: You can find a lot of titles
  • Quality: Mixed, but a lot of unappealing titles with gems mixed in.
  • Drawbacks: It can be really hard to find the good stuff. Also, sometimes Amazon’s idea of a special isn’t mine.

You don’t have to be a Prime member to find specials and freebies on Amazon. There are monthly specials, and any category of books can be sorted by price to find freebies and cheap books. It’s a large selection, however, it’s a large selection of often questionable quality.

I will occasionally look at the daily or monthly deals. These days, however, I’m far more likely to find free and cheap e-books on Amazon by subscribing to bargain E-book email services.

Satisfy Your Book-Loving Soul with Free and Cheap E-Books

Bargain E-Book Email Services

Bookbub

  • Price: $3.99 to free
  • Selection: Changes daily
  • Quality: Pretty good stuff, especially for genre fiction
  • Drawbacks: A good way to get hooked on a series of books, only to have to pay full price after the first one. Plus, easy to pick up stuff you are only a bit interested in because “Hey, it’s $3.”

Bookbub is my favorite daily book email. Every day, they send me a list of books that you can buy inexpensively (or even pick up for free) for Kindle, Nook, or Apple. It’s a good list, too, and far easier to browse than the discounted list of ebooks on Amazon.

If you love e-books, you need to subscribe to Bookbub.

You can pick your favorite genres and Bookbub will include those genres on your daily email. You can also let them know your favorite authors and they’ll tell you anytime one of them has a bargain going (or even a new release coming out.) This makes it very easy to find good deals on ebooks you love or find appealing.

However, the deals are guaranteed for one day only. Sometimes FOMO means you pick up books you might not pick up otherwise.

Early Bird Books

  • Price: $3.99 to free
  • Selection: Changes daily
  • Quality: Pretty good stuff, with more literary titles, classics, and nonfiction than Bookbub
  • Drawbacks:  Easy to pick up stuff you are only a bit interested in because “Hey, it’s $3.”

Early Bird Books is my second favorite service. It has more literary titles and nonfiction than Bookbub, so it doesn’t quite fit my tastes as well. And it doesn’t have the author alerts that make Bookbub so useful even if you aren’t actively looking for something to read.

However, if literary fiction is your jam, this is your ebook service.  Plus, they’ll send you emails with narrowed down categories, or emails devoted to one author if their books are on special.

Similar to Bookbub, the deals are only guaranteed for the current day.

Freebooksy

  • Price: Free
  • Selection: Changes daily
  • Quality: Low. Occasionally, you’ll find a gem, though
  • Drawbacks: Mostly poor quality so you may end up cluttering up your e-reader with stuff you don’t really want to read

Freebooksy sends a daily email with a selection of free books you can pick up for Kindle, Nook, or Apple. It has a lot of self-published titles in multiple genres, and you can pick ones you’re interested in.

I used to pick up a lot of reading material on Freebooksy because everything was free. I noticed, though, that I wasn’t reading a lot of it.  I think it works best for certain genres, like romance and cozy mysteries, and not so well for my interests (historical mysteries and science fiction.)

The Portalist

  • Price: $4.99 and down
  • Selection: All sci-fi/fantasy/horror
  • Quality: High quality if you like these genres
  • Drawbacks:  None, really. It’s not as frequent as the others.

The Portalist is a science fiction/fantasy site that periodically sends you a list of discounted genre books. I rarely buy from their lists, but they also send a lot of literary and pop culture blog posts that are fun to read. Sometimes they’ll talk me into buying something.

Project Gutenberg

  • Price: Free
  • Selection: Mostly copyright-free materials, so not the newest
  • Quality: Classic literature, so high-quality titles
  • Drawbacks:  Not the easiest browsing

Does your kid need a copy of Hamlet or Pride and Prejudice to read for English class over the weekend? Instead of heading for the bookstore, head for Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg has downloads of over 55,000 books that you can access for free. Books are available for download or to read online. Most of them are older works in the public domain.

Project Gutenberg is a nonprofit site and much of the work is done by volunteers. The site and search are very basic, so it’s not the shiniest or most user-friendly venue for browsing for something to read. That said, it’s an amazing resource to read some of the greatest books in history, and it’s all free.

Publishers & Authors

I suspect there may be more publishers that will offer freebies, but as a sci-fi nerd, I use these two.

Baen Free Library

  • Price: Free
  • Selection: All sci-fi/fantasy/horror, often with a military slant. But limited to a few older titles.
  • Quality: High quality if you like these genres
  • Drawbacks:  A good way to get hooked on a series that you’ll then have to pay full price for.

Baen Books has a number of its older titles available to download for free. All downloads are DRM free, and it’s a good way to try works by their more popular authors.

Tor.com

  • Price: Free for one e-book a month for a limited time
  • Selection: They pick the available book, which will be in the sci-fi/fantasy/horror genres
  • Quality: High quality if you like these genres
  • Drawbacks:  One ebook for a limited time only, and they pick the one

If you sign up for Tor.com‘s emails, they’ll send you the opportunity to download one of their books (of their choice and only for a limited time) about once a month. That may not sound like much, but the books are often very good if you like those genres. A couple of months ago, I picked up John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, one of my favorite ever library reads.

Like the Portalist, they’ll also send you links to really interesting genre blog posts, so it’s worth subscribing even if you never take one of the downloads.

Authors

There are a few authors I’ve seen who will let you have a free download of books and stories if you sign up for their email lists and follow them on social media. Most of these are not major stars in the literary world, but sometimes you can find someone new whose work you enjoy. Others will let you see excerpts of their works in progress.

Do you use any services to find free and cheap e-books? How do you find great things to read without spending a bunch of money?

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*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

17 Responses to “Satisfy Your Book-Loving Soul with Free and Cheap E-Books”
  1. Mrs. Picky Pincher 10/10/2017
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