I've been thinking about this post for a few months since I've been watching a lot of pirating of my books and my friends books happen online. I know that times are tough for people. Readers want to read and they see all of these amazing books online, then they realize they can just download them from a torrent or a free ebook site, so they go the cheapest route possible and do that. I can't tell you how heartbreaking this is for authors, to know that people justify downloading pirated ebooks because they're “broke.” Most authors are starving artists too. We barely scrape by. And our income drops when more people download our books from pirate sites instead of paying for them or getting them legitimately for free.
But here's the awesome news for most readers. You could probably go an entire year or two or five reading quality books for FREE (or super cheap) without pirating or stealing. And you could also “pay back” those authors by leaving reviews on those books when you're through.
Here are my top resources for acquiring books for free or cheap. They should be applicable to just about ANY region of the world. If you can't find one way on this list to read books for free or cheap, please leave suggestions in the comments and I will get to researching for you.
First and foremost, join your local library. If your local library is on top of things, they not only have hardcovers and paperbacks, but they acquire new titles frequently. If they don't have something you want, ask them to help you out and order it, either for them or from other local libraries. Be sure to stop by your local library often. Many of them sell used books once or twice a year for dirt cheap in order to raise money for the library. You want to get in on that. Plenty of people, myself included, donate good quality books to the library for these sales. Sign up for their newsletter and, if you have an eReader, see if you can get ebooks too.
Little Free Library
GO TO – https://littlefreelibrary.org
Search the Little Free Library and see if there's one near you. None close by? Consider starting one of your own, loading it up with the paperbacks you already read, and see if others will come by and exchange books!
Borrow Books From Friends
Set up a book swap with friends a few times per month or start a Facebook group with local friends and swap in there. This is one of my favorite methods of reading more because this way you get to hear about new authors from a trusted source!
Use Amazon's Lending Feature (or Amazon's Prime Lending Library)
Ask friends to loan you books from Amazon using the lending feature. This is not always turned on for every book, but many do have it. Amazon also gives you a free book per month if you're a Prime member (though I'm not sure you would be a Prime member if you're broke, but it's worth pointing out this exists.)
Paperback Book Swap
GO TO – http://www.paperbackbookswap.com
This one is for all the people who love their paperbacks and have a little money for shipping. I love Paperback Book Swap. Put your books up there that you want to give away. When people claim them, you send them their books and you get a credit. You can then use your credit to request books be sent to you. All you pay is shipping and a small site fee to PBS for helping out in the transaction. This is a great way to find new books and get rid of old ones.
Subscribe to ALL THE NEWSLETTERS! These are so worth it. These companies will send you a newsletter every day with ebooks that are discounted, 99¢, or free. Please remember to leave reviews if you get these books for cheap! They really help out authors and publishers.
Here's a list of many newsletter (but not all because there are SO MANY)
http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000677541 Kindle Daily Deals, subscribe on the right sidebar
http://www.genrepulse.com (I believe this is an app on your phone)
There. That's enough to get you started. In no time you will have so many free books, you will probably cry with joy.
If you love a particular author or many, sign up for their newsletters. They will often send out alerts about their books being on sale or free. SOMETIMES, if you open emails often, you will be more likely to get asked to read their books for free. Now, NOT ALL AUTHORS DO THIS, but many do. Many will open their newsletter lists, look for active subscribers, segment them off, and offer them Advanced Review/Reader Copies of their books in exchange for an honest review. Maybe you'll get lucky and be invited. Whatever you do, though, don't press the issue. Nagging an author for free books is a big NO-NO. We work hard to bring you the books we write. Giving our books away for free is AT OUR DISCRETION. Advanced Review Copies are a privilege, not a right. Please respect that.
GO TO – https://www.google.com/insights/consumersurveys/google_opinion_rewards
This is a hidden gem! Did you know that if you answer Google Consumer Surveys you can earn rewards in the Google Play Store? Which can then be used to buy books? I know tons of people who do this. They answer a few surveys, make some virtual cash, and then go spend it on books. Is that genius or what? I have an iPhone so I've never done this because everyone I know does this on Android. BUT if you do have an Android phone or tablet, you should totally do this. There are lots of books in the Google Play Store! (Mine are there!) And I've heard the reading experience on Google Play books is great too.
GO TO – http://www.instafreebie.com
One of my favorite new sites is Instafreebie, a platform for authors to give away books to readers, while also getting the chance to invite those readers to join our newsletters. Here's my suggestion. Go to http://www.instafreebie.com and sign up on the homepage. You'll get regular emails with books they are giving away for free. Many of them require that you sign up for the author's newsletter as well to claim the copy. Do it. And don't unsubscribe. You'll get the free book AND, if you end up loving that author and their books, you'll hear more about them in the future via their newsletter! This is a win-win situation. And the Instafreebie staff do an excellent job of curating books for their giveaways. There's something here for everyone.
GO TO – http://www.noisetrade.com
Check it out at http://www.noisetrade.com and sign up as a fan. This site is new to me but it has a great premise. Free music AND books to users, AND if you love what you download, you can leave a tip for the artists. It's not required, but hey, if you have a $1 or two, you can make a difference in that artist's life by leaving a tip. I have REMOVED up there and I've gained a few newsletter subscribers this way too. New fans I can send deals to! :)
GO TO – http://www.patreon.com
Patreon is a little bit more work and money, but the pay off can be rewards. Find out if there are authors you love asking for donations via Patreon. Sometimes you can donate a very small amount, less than a coffee a month, and get some great rewards, like more books, podcasts, audiobooks, music, etc. It's definitely worth checking out if you've found an artist you really like.
GO TO – http://www.wattpad.com
Wattpad has TONS of books, fan fiction, and new fiction to read. Seriously, there's something for everyone on Wattpad. And they have an app for both iOS and Android so you can read on your phone on the go. It costs nothing and you may read the next up-and-coming best seller. You never know!
GO TO – http://amzn.to/2aiOnOs
Kindle Unlimited does cost money, yes. But if you're a budget reader, and can read a lot in one month, $10 for unlimited books is right up your alley. You can read a whole lot and get plenty of books for the price. There are lots of books that are NOT in Kindle Unlimited (I personally have no books in Kindle Unlimited right now, but I may someday, you never know) but by saving money reading lots of books IN Kindle Unlimited, you have more money to spend on books outside of Kindle Unlimited. Amazing.
GO TO – http://www.gutenberg.org
Love the classic? Drop by Project Gutenberg for some free books! I've read Sherlock Holmes through Project Gutenberg and plenty of others. It's rich with material. Go for it!
Become a Book Blogger
This is probably the biggest undertaking so that's why it's last, but if you REALLY love books, love reviewing them, love promoting them, then you should give book blogging a try. You can get a blog for free, and you can review books you already have to get you started. You can make friends with other book bloggers, follow them online, and promote them too. And you can set up a contact page on your blog for authors to contact you and ask you to review THEIR BOOKS for free! But this is something you should only do if you can handle the responsibility of reviewing on a deadline. Because getting free books in this manner means you're willing to read and review, and people will be counting on you. But perhaps you really want to do that! More power to you. Go get 'em!
Aaaaand, that's all I've got for you right now. But if you have other LEGAL ways to read for cheap or free, please drop your links and suggestions in the comments. I want to make this a comprehensive list so that people can come here and find free or cheap books for years to come!