Finding the best free books in any format, audio, digital, paper.
By Brad Beckstrom
I read a lot. Maybe not compared to some folks, but more than I ever thought I would. Not sure how I got hooked on it. It might’ve been in the early days of Borders Books or stumbling upon some great books on Amazon back in the late 90s when that’s all they sold.
I remember a quote from Kevin Kelly, the founding editor of
Read one book a month and it will change your life.
It took me a little longer to figure out that libraries and independent bookstores were a better place find good books. Sadly independent bookstores, or even bookstores in general, are getting harder to find. I live just outside of Washington, DC and they’re even getting harder to find here. The closest bookstore to me when I ride my bike into Georgetown is owned by, wait for it….Amazon.
Luckily technology is making it easier to find a good book and the key to enjoying reading is finding good books. You’ll often go through a lot of duds or books that start out like gangbusters than just drag on.
So here, in no particular order, are my secrets to finding good books, often for free. If you’re not sure what you even want to read, see below for some tips on getting book ideas.
I enjoy audiobooks that I can listen to while on a walk or on my bike. I’ve been very impressed by the tens of thousands of audiobooks and eBooks available on two apps: Overdrive and Libby. You can download these in the app stores and then put in your local library’s information to see the titles available to you.
The first thing I’ll do if I hear about a good book is search in the Overdrive app. With this app you can access your local library or library system so that you can check out up to 10 books at a time at no charge. Check which app your library uses. For my local library, both Overdrive and Libby access the same catalog.
Because ebooks and audiobooks are licensed just like traditional books so there’s often a waiting list for good titles. Sometimes the waiting lists are several weeks long so it’s good to have a queue of books that you want to read. The nice thing is you’ll get an email when the book is available for download and you don’t have to run to the library to pick it up.
Another cool feature in the apps is that you can send these library eBooks to a Kindle or a Kindle app on a tablet. The audiobooks you can listen to right in the app.
The great thing about these apps is that there is a minimal investment of time to actually get the book and if you don’t like the book, stop reading and return it right in the app and it’s all free. You’ll also be able to place a hold on books that are available in paper by accessing your local library through the app.
The Amazon Ecosystem
If I can’t find the book in my local library using their app then I’ll generally go to Amazon to find it and send a free sample to my Kindle app for iPad. If you’re a member of Amazon Prime you automatically have access to Prime Reading. More about this below. If you own a Kindle you are automatically part of the Kindle free lending library with over 1 million books.
I have an Audible account and Amazon Prime. The Audible account has a $14.95 monthly fee that allows me to get one audible book credit per month. I tend to like the really long audible books that sometimes list for as much as $40 so I feel I get the most out of the deal. A couple things people don’t know about Audible Is that you can suspend your subscription for up to three months per year which I do every June. This allows me to use up any credits I’ve built up over the year and also save 25% on my total membership. The membership will automatically come back on after three months and the credits will begin accumulating again.
I’ve also found that Audible has the best ratings rating system I’ve found for books. They also have free monthly content for members that includes books and other ad free content with new titles available each month. For these titles, no credit is required.
Any book you don’t like you can return and receive a replacement credit. I find myself using that option at least once a year.
Amazon Prime Reading (not to be confused with Kindle Unlimited, a paid service)
If you’re a member of Amazon Prime, one little-known and frankly a bit hard to find feature is Amazon Prime Reading. Amazon Prime Reading is included with your prime membership and gives you access to free Kindle books and magazines you can read on most tablets. I’ve gotten several Lonely Planet travel guides that list for about $20 at no charge. If you own a Kindle there is also a free Kindle First option that allows you to read new releases at no charge and access the Kindle lending library mentioned above.
A great place to get ideas for books is from blogs. I follow around 50 blogs using a feed reader called Feedly. I probably spend as much time reading blogs as I do reading books and one of the best places to get recommendations for books is from bloggers who read and write a lot.
I group blogs I follow in the categories like Photography, Business, Architecture, Travel, Personal-finance, Life etc. Bloggers are constantly writing about and reviewing books. I find that Feedly allows me to skim through blogs for topics and titles that interest me. The free version of Feedly works just fine for this.
If you listen to podcasts you’ll know that they love to have authors on to talk about their new books. In fact, I believe the only reason authors go on podcasts is to promote their new books. There’s no better way to get a feel for a book you might like than to listen to an interview with the author. Some podcasts I listen to that have authors on weekly include; Tim Ferriss, James Altucher, and Srini Rao at the Unmistakable Creative.
Here are 7 quick steps to finding and reading great books.
- Listen to podcasts and follow bloggers in Feedly for recommendations on great books and author interviews.
- Get a local library card and use it to log into the Overdrive or Libby apps. Download these to your phone or tablet from the app store.
- Tryout free audiobooks from your local library so you can listen while you drive or exercise.
- Get familiar with the Amazon book ecosystem and take advantage of lots of free content for Amazon Prime members and Kindle owners.
- Use Audible and Amazon to check out book reviews even if you don’t use the paid memberships.
- If you own a Kindle, join the Kindle First email list and the Kindle Lending Library.
- Create a free membership at Goodreads.com to track books you’ve read and get reviews from friends and readers with similar interests.
The next time you’re tempted to open up a social media or news app, click on a reading app instead. (Kindle, Overdrive, Libby, Audible, Feedly) This really helped me go on a high quality low information diet. You’ll start to enjoy reading again and reduce time wasted on social media. I found that books have the opposite effect of social media when it comes to learning and reducing stress.