Buying books from Amazon will probably be the primary way you get new content for your Kindle; the retailer offers hundreds of thousands of Kindle-formatted eBooks, including recent releases, old favorites and current best sellers.
But there are also many thousands of free eBooks available for the Kindle, a large number of which are already formatted for the reader and ready to go.
In this Kindle 101 post, I’ll introduce you to free eBooks and show you how to find them and how to know if they’re Kindle-ready.
Why Would a Book Be Free?
Most authors want to be paid for their work. And, as a writer (albeit technical), I stand with them. So, most Kindle books are paid content, meaning you fork over cash and get the desired product, just like a bound book. But there are also books available which are completely free, and the reasons for this vary.
Some books are so-called public domain titles, meaning their copyright has expired and they’re free to be distributed at no cost. eBooks in this category are usually older works, many of them classics from authors such as Mark Twain, Mary Shelly, Charles Dickens and the like. This category also includes works of antiquity like Plato’s Republic and Homer’s The Odyssey.
But there are also free titles offered at no charge to “hook” you, the authors – or more often publishers – hoping you’ll enjoy the book and purchase more. You’ll often see these teaser titles are first-in-series works that, hopefully, will whet your appetite for those that follow.
Free Kindle Books on Amazon
The most convenient source of free Kindle books is Amazon itself. There you will find many free titles, most of them public domain.
These books are “purchased” the same as paid titles from their respective product pages on the Amazon.com web site – there’s just no charge. These titles are labeled with the price $0.00, like this Kindle version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula:
Finding free Kindle books on Amazon can be a bit of a challenge. There’s – at least as far as I can tell – no master list of all the eBooks Amazon offers for free. But there are a few ways to find them.
The Bestsellers in Kindle eBooks page is the easiest and most straightforward. Here you’ll see a list of the top 100 paid Kindle books (on the left) and the top 100 free Kindle books (on the right). The lists are updated every hour, so it will change over time. I try to check the page every other day to find newly-added free eBooks.
The fact that a book is free one day does not mean it’ll be free the next. Publishers and/or Amazon often offer books at no charge for a short period of time. I’ve seen several eBooks for free on the Bestsellers page, only to find them going for $9 or $13 a day later. It takes just a few seconds of your time every day or two to check what’s up for grabs – and if you’re an avid reader, that’s time well spent.
Another way to find free books on Amazon is to search. Say I want to find another Bram Stoker novel, but am not familiar with his other works. A quick Amazon Kindle Store search for Bram Stoker will display a list of available titles. Not all are free, but if I use the Sort by tool at the top of the page to sort by Price: Low to High, I can list free titles first:
Another way of finding free Kindle books on Amazon is a variation on the search method. If you’re looking for free books, but don’t have a title or author in mind, you can browse genres.
On the left side of the Kindle eBook page on Amazon.com, you’ll find a list of genres under the heading Kindle eBooks:
If I’m in the mood for, say, nonfiction, I’ll select it from the list. This will take me to a listing of the various sub-categories of nonfiction available. I’ll select Biographies & Memoirs, then Leaders & Notable People, then Presidents & Heads of State. I’ve now narrowed my genre browsing as much as the system will allow:
Now using the same Sort by menu as before, I’ll select Price: Low to High. Voila!
Other Free Kindle Book Sources
No free eBook source is more useful to Kindle users than Project Gutenberg. This site is devoted to free works and is relatively easy to use.
You can browse or search the site to find what you’re looking for. Once you do, you’ll see a list of available formats for the title. Staying with the Stoker theme, I’ll search for Dracula. Here’s the eBook page (there are also audio recordings on the site):
You’ll want the Kindle, or MOBI, format:
Select it and the MOBI eBook file will download to your computer. You’ll then have to manually copy the file to your Kindle’s Documents folder using the USB cable that shipped with your Kindle.
The Kindle supports .MOBI and .AZW eBook formats. Files you download for viewing on the Kindle should be in one of these formats. The Kindle will not read the popular .EPUB format, which is a shame.
One of the problems with free eBook sources other than the ones I’ve highlighted above is that they tend to offer eBook files that are not supported by the Kindle – or in PDF format, which the Kindle can technically view, but usually appear in such a way that they’re awkward or unreadable.
Google Books, for example, is an excellent source for free electronic books, but it offers its downloadable titles in EPUB and PDF, which are not Kindle-friendly. In a future Kindle 101 post, I’ll show you how to convert some of these non-compatible eBook files for use on the Kindle.
Amazon should make its free Kindle books more easily accessible and browsable, but I understand why this is not a big priority for them; selling books is their goal. Still, they deserve kudos for offering them at all.
I wish Amazon would add EPUB file support to the Kindle, as this format is supported by the vast majority of eBook providers. If you’d like EPUB support, too, let them know.
Also, if you have a favorite source of free Kindle-ready books I haven’t mentioned, post it in the comments section below.