Being a bookworm has its perks: Studies show that reading regularly can improve your verbal and written comprehension, boost your vocabulary, reduce your stress levels, and even increase your brain activity. However, it can also become an expensive habit to maintain—especially for those who prefer to have a physical copy of their latest literary venture on hand. Fortunately, we’ve compiled a list of ways for you to keep your shelves stocked without breaking the bank.
Whether you are a teacher trying to inspire young readers on a budget, a parent looking to invest in your child’s education, or a thrifty booklover with shelf space to spare, these resources provide opportunities to supplement your reading habit free of charge. After all, reading for free can help you save up funds to buy other things (including more books).
Read Public Domain Texts
One of the easiest ways to read for free—and expand your familiarity with many of the classics of the Western literary canon while you’re at it—is to explore works that have entered the Public Domain. These texts have typically enjoyed many years of copyrighted exclusivity, but now their legal status has shifted so that they can be freely reproduced.
There are a number of online collections featuring free eBook and PDF versions of Public Domain texts, including Standard eBooks, which offers titles formatted for every eReader, the Wikimedia foundation’s Wikisource, and Project Gutenberg, which boasts a catalog of over 60,000 novels, plays, short stories, poems, and more! Popular Public Domain reads include the complete works of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Edgar Allan Poe. Plus, new titles enter the Public Domain every year, with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby having joined the ever-expanding list in 2021!
For those interested in an enhanced reading experience, eNotes also hosts many Public Domain texts with annotations. Keep in mind that while the texts themselves are free to read, the annotations—which are written and reviewed by literature experts—do require a subscription to view.
Join Publisher Mailing Lists
For those interested in more contemporary reads, publishing houses often offer free eBooks for members of their mailing lists. Science fiction and fantasy outlet Tor Publishing has an eBook of the Month Club, which sends out a free digital download of a selected novel, novella, or short story collection each month. Past freebies have included the entirety of Seanan McGuire’s multi-award-winning Wayward Children series and Sarah Gailey’s Hugo and Locus award-nominated novella Upright Women Wanted.
Other publishing houses—including Simon and Schuster and Bloodhound Books—offer free ebooks for new subscribers to their mailing lists. Barnes and Noble also occasionally features free eBooks for NOOK app users, and Amazon Kindle also has free offerings for eBooks on their devices.
Make Use of Libraries
No list of ways to read for free would be complete without some encouragement to check out your local library. In addition to providing physical copies of books for those who prefer a hands-on experience, many library systems have also started offering digital book checkouts for enhanced convenience and accessibility.
In addition to your local library, a growing number of digital libraries are working to make knowledge as widely available as possible. Organizations like OpenLibrary and its parent site, Internet Archive host millions of eBooks spanning every genre imaginable. From textbooks to true crime novels to children’s picture books, OpenLibrary’s ever-evolving selection is free to access (and add to, if you so choose) from anywhere in the world.
Exchange Reviews for Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)
Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs)—also known as galleys—are copies of upcoming releases that authors and publishing houses send out to select readers with the goal of generating publicity and reviews prior to the actual release. ARCs are usually limited in quantity, so distributors typically want to make sure the recipients are active on reviews sites like Amazon and Goodreads or have a sizable following on influential social media sites (such as TikTok and Instagram). Sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss+ provide readers the opportunity to directly request ARCs for books they are interested in.
Admittedly, this tactic for gaining free reading material requires more effort than any of the other entries on this list, but for a motivated reader, it can also be one of the most rewarding. Writing reviews often allows people to engage more deeply and thoughtfully with what they have read. It can also facilitate connections with other booklovers and—in some cases—even open up opportunities for paid work down the road!
Participate in Bookswaps
While a lot of the entries on this list have focused primarily on eBooks, many people still prefer the experience of reading a physical book. In these cases, bookswaps can be an excellent way to refresh your personal library while also forming connections with other bookworms. While we all have titles we would never willingly part with, there is also a certain joy in giving someone else the gift of a good book—and receiving one in return! Little Free Library boxes operate on a similar principle: if you take a book, leave a book for someone else to enjoy.
Many local book-exchange groups are active on social media, but if you can’t find one in your area, never fear! Websites like PaperBackSwap allow users to trade their used books for specifically requested titles, ensuring you (and your swap-mate) get exactly what you want out of the deal. This method does, however, require you to pay for postage.
Check Out Free Children’s Book Programs
Childhood literacy can help promote long-term personal, academic, and professional success, and there are a number of organizations dedicated to providing free books for children and young adults. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library sends free books to children from birth until five years of age in select regions of the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the Republic of Ireland.
Barnes and Noble’s Summer Reading Journal offers kids the chance to earn a free book by completing a simple worksheet. Unite For Literacy hosts a library of educational eBooks covering topics such as numbers, colors, technology, health, culture, animals, and more. Their books are also often available in multiple languages, and many have accompanying audio recordings for enhanced accessibility.
Have we missed any resources you know and are passionate about? Let us know and we’ll periodically update this post!