[If you know of websites that should be on this list, please tell us about them.]
If you’re new to buying ebooks, there are a few factors to consider. First, is the book you’re looking for in the public domain? If it is, or might be, try a public domain book database. If your book is still under copyright, try your local library. If you can’t find the book at the library, try an ebookstore. If you’re brand new to ebooks, you might want to read our quick note on formats. (Also, Calibre is a great, free program you can use to organize and load your non-DRM ebooks.)
At the end, we’ve also listed some miscellaneous sites and resources, all of which we heartily recommend.
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Public domain book databases
The original ebook project, and still the first place we go for books that are, or might be, out of copyright.
Basically a guy who made a great front end for Gutenberg, it has a lot of the same books, but pre-converted to dozens of ereader formats.
Many forward-thinking libraries now have ecollections, and most ereaders (with the notable exception of the Kindle) support borrowing library ebooks through the OverDrive library system and Adobe or Mobipocket DRM—you can find a complete list of supported devices here.
To download library ebooks, you’ll need a library card from an OverDrive library, and you’ll probably need Adobe Digital Editions. You can search for an OverDrive library near you on Overdrive’s website. You can find more information about Digital Editions here.
The process is different for most ereaders. You should be able to find complete instructions on Adobe’s website or the site of your ereader’s manufacturer. Here’s a pretty good guide for Sony users.
If you can’t find the book you’re looking for at the library, try one of the other ebookstores listed below.
– We’ve partnered up with Powell’s so any purchases you make there help us out just a little. Prices can vary, but they have a DRM-free section. They offer books in ePub, Microsoft Reader, Palm Reader (eReader), and DRM-free PDF.
eBooks.com — Reader Laura recommends eBooks.com, which offers ebooks in Adobe ePub and a few other formats at reasonable prices ($12 max, most less than $10). eBooks.com also has a dedicated Academic Books section.
Sony Reader Store — In an effort to compete with Amazon, most Sony ebooks are now $9.99 and sold with non-proprietary Adobe ePub DRM, making Sony often the best deal around. You’ll have to get the Reader Library app, but the ebooks themselves should work with any ePub-compatible ereader. (I haven’t confirmed that Sony ebooks work with non-Sony devices, so try it first with a free Google classic.)
Barnes and Noble — Barnes and Noble offers ebooks in Adobe ePub now, just like Kobo and Sony. B&N also has iPhone and Android apps for the Nook. If you have some sort of a Nook, this isn’t a bad place to buy an ebook, if you can’t find it at the library.
Kobo books — Kobo is very similar to the other major non-Amazon ebookstores. Not a bad place to go, especially if you’ve got a Kobo ereader. Kobo also has iPhone/iPad and Android apps.
Fictionwise — Also has a DRM-free section, and also can be expensive. They sell a lot of ebooks by smaller, independent epublishers. Fictionwise prefers to sell you ebooks in eReader format. Most dedicated ereaders won’t work well with books from Fictionwise, but you can get an eReader app on your computer or most smartphones. Here’s their help page.
A1 Books — No DRM-free, alas, but sometimes the cheapest place for Adobe-compatible ebooks. They also sell certain titles in Mobipocket and Microsoft Reader.
Diesel eBooks — This is another 3rd-party ebookstore that I have a soft spot for. They often have outrageously high ($20+) prices, but their shopping system (which includes pop-up customer reviews and awesome “Google previews” of first chapters) is one of the best out there. Diesel also sells books in Microsoft Reader and eReader.
Mobipocket — Not the greatest prices, but if you have a Mobipocket ereader, the dedicated store offers your best selection.
Amazon Kindle Store — This is by and large an ebookstore for Kindle users exclusively. If you have a Kindle, Amazon is the only place you can buy DRMed ebooks. There’s also iPhone/iPad and Blackberry apps that will read Kindle-proprietary ebooks, but if you don’t have a Kindle, we don’t recommend buying ebooks from Amazon.
Miscellaneous ebook sites and sources
The Bookplanet — Civilian-run website that makes a few series of sci-fi and thriller-type books available for the Sony Reader. John Grisham, Philip Pullman, Harry Potter. That kind of thing. (This site has been take down. We’ll let you know if/when it comes back.)
The Burgomeister — Another civilian, he makes his personal ebook library available on an honor code system. Great collection of literary fiction.
hotgiraffe — Reader Ricardo tipped us off to this page. It’s a civilian’s personal collection of ebooks, not terribly well-organized and the formats are a complete crapshoot (anything from HTML and .rtf to LIT, SSC, and something called Virga). But it’s got a great collection of literary modern classics (DeLillo, Coover, Calvino, Barth, etc.) and a respectable collection of sci-fi, too (LeGuin, Ballard, Card, Stephenson, etc.).
feedbooks — Recommended by reader Robert N. A good sized collection of free books both new and old, most original. Offers books in multiple formats and, similarly to LuLu, will help prospective authors get their own books published.
Cory Doctorow — A sci-fi writer who puts all his books, stories, and articles on the web for free.
Other lists like this one
A list of DRM-free ebook sources from Text2Go.
TeleRead also has a great list of free ebook sources.
Free Literature has an exhaustive list of free ebook resources.
Know of a good spot to get ebooks?
Let us know. You can also reach us at email@example.com.