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The best places to find and download free e-books

With your new (or old and weathered!) e-book reader in hand, you might be wondering where you can acquire e-books for free. Sure, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and even Kobo have extensive e-book stores, but what if you're already over your book budget for this month? Here's where to get the best free e-books.

Check your device's book store
Despite the paid store listings above, all three providers offer store sections which include public domain works, or promotional texts, that are freely available.

Visit the Internet Archive or Project Gutenberg
The Internet Archive, a compendium of media across the Internet, has over 2.5 million free books available for download. All of the books can be downloaded in the universal EPUB format, as a PDF for reading on the computer, or in a format that plays nice with Amazon's Kindle line of readers.

Project Gutenberg is a volunteer effort to digitize, proofread, and archive cultural, textual works. Like the Internet Archive, it offers public domain works in open-source file formats you can easily upload to your device.

To read any of these books on your reader, follow these steps:

  • Kindle: On the Internet Archive, once you've selected a text, click on the link labeled "Kindle" on the left-hand side to download the book to your computer. Then, plug your Kindle into your computer with the USB cable, and drag the downloaded file to the "Documents" folder on your Kindle. This will place the book on your home screen, available to read instantly.
  • If you just want to get a standard EPUB book onto your Kindle, one from Project Gutenberg for instance, you'll need to take a few extra steps. Wondershare has a guide here.
  • Nook: Getting EPUB files on your Nook from Project Gutenberg or Internet Archive is very simple. Just drag and drop the EPUB files onto a microSD card on your computer, and then put it in your Nook.
  • Kobo: Follow the exact same steps as are listed for the Nook. Just put EPUB or PDF files onto a microSD card, and your Kobo e-reader will be able to see and display them.

Utilize Open Library or other lending programs
Open Library has over 200,000 eBooks that are made available through a network of libraries. Once you make an account, you can download up to five books at a time, and keep them for two weeks each. You can download them as PDFs or EPUBs, but they will have DRM on them that will prevent you from using the simple steps above. Instead, follow these:

Kindle: On Open Library, simply navigate to the title of your choice, and click the "Send to Kindle" link which will let you wirelessly deliver the book to your Kindle via Amazon.
Nook: Getting DRM-protected EPUB or PDF files on your Nook requires a few more steps than the Kindle. Detailed instructions are available at Barnes and Noble's website here.
Kobo: The process for getting protected library books on your Kobo eReader is similar to the Nook in that a separate program is required. Details can be found here.

Many libraries in the U.S. are beginning to lend out books in electronic form. You can utilize Overdrive Search to find books, and the libraries near you that will lend them out for free. If your library is up to date, they usually offer similar features as Open Library. You can check e-books out for a period of time, or place them on hold if what you want isn't available, and then read them on your e-reader or computer. These books will also be protected by DRM, and you'll need to follow the steps above to get the books onto your eReader.

If you're an Amazon Prime customer, you have access to the Kindle Owners' Lending Library. This allows Kindle owners to "choose from more than 350,000 books to borrow for free with no due dates." This list includes "over 100 current and former New York Times best sellers," and you can find out more information about the program here.

Barnes and Noble offers a similar service, called LendMe, which allows Nook users to lend books they've purchased to friends and family. If any of your relatives or friends have a Nook and recently read a great book, they might be able to lend it to you using this program. You can read more about LendMe here.

Whether you're new to the e-reader game, or you're a grizzled veteran looking for your next story, the books offered at these sites range from classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to modern-day texts of all genres. If you're looking for classics, Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg are the places to start. If you're looking for free access to more recent books, check out your device's store, or utilize Open Library/Overdrive to either get books from networked libraries, or find a library near you that has the book you want.

Photo: Windell Oskay