20 tricks to access 1,000s of free e-books & audiobooks
In a year that feels like a work of fiction, 2020 has seen more of us finding escapism or knowledge in a good book. Many purists will prefer to hold a traditional hardback or paperback, but digital books can't be beaten for convenience – and for lots of us, visiting a physical library or second-hand book store isn't feasible at the moment. So we've updated our 20 easy tricks to access thousands of e-books and audiobooks for free.
If you read a book for nowt and enjoy it, consider leaving a positive review on Amazon, Google or other sites, as it'll help the author out and means you can still give something back. While this guide is about getting books free, if you need to buy some, perhaps as Christmas presents, we normally tell you to go for the cheapest. But many independent book stores will be struggling this year, so if you want to support your local one, consider checking if it has a website or drop-off service.
Whether you're a seasoned bookworm or you've recently immersed yourself into the world of literature, grab a cuppa and let's dive in to our novel tips and tricks for getting free reads, including maxing free trials, send free audiobooks to mates and get paid for listening to an audiobook.
Enjoy thousands of e-books and audiobooks for FREE with local library membership
Of course, under normal circumstances one of the easiest and cheapest ways to read books for free is a trip to the local library (find your nearest). However, restrictions in your area might mean you're missing out on going, or maybe you just don't feel comfortable taking the trip.
The good news is it's likely you'll be able to access an online service using your library membership info, where you can borrow a vast catalogue of adults' and kids' e-books and audiobooks digitally for free.
It's worth seeing if your library offers this – every one we checked did. Your library subscribes to a service which hosts an online or app-based version of a library where you can borrow/check out titles digitally.
How it works in a few steps
- You'll need to first be a member of your local library. If you haven't already registered, you can usually do it just by giving them a call.
- Check to see if your library is signed up to an online service and which it uses – see Gov.uk to find your library's website and it should tell you on there. Each library's online service differs by local authority – with some of the popular services being Borrow Box, RB Digital and Overdrive/Libby.
- The next step is to download the free app of the service your library uses. Once you've opened the app, search for your library and register – you'll need your library membership info for this.
- You can then search for titles or browse, and start borrowing (more on that below).
It's worth noting you can't usually read library e-books on a Kindle (except for the Kindle Fire tablet, as you can download apps on to it). You'll need a compatible device such as an iPhone, iPad or Android phone/tablet.
MoneySavers rate these services as a great alternative if you can't physically get to your local library...
Most of the online services will work in a similar way, though exactly what you can borrow digitally will vary depending on what your library has subscribed to. Generally, from the libraries we checked you could borrow fiction as well as non-fiction titles such as cookbooks, history, health and fitness etc.
For example, libraries within Kent County Council have over 26,000 e-books and more than 4,000 audiobooks available online, including fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children via the Libby app.
Anyone who's a member of a library within Edinburgh City Council can borrow over 10,000 fiction and non-fiction e-books via the Libby app and more than 5,000 audiobooks via Libby, RB Digital, Borrow Box and uLibrary.
Libraries will often have popular e-books and audiobooks with the same narrators as you'll find if you downloaded them from Amazon's Audible, so it's worth checking your library's online service first.
The number of e-books and audiobooks you can checkout at one time, and for how long, is determined by your library.
For example, MSE Jenny's local library in Essex uses the Borrow Box app and lets you borrow up to seven titles at a time. MSE Oli's library in Kent, which uses the Libby app, allows you to borrow up to 12 titles at once for a period of up to three weeks. MSE Rhiannon's library in Buckinghamshire uses the RB Digital app and lets you borrow up to five e-books and up to five audiobooks for a borrowing period of three weeks.
Much like in a physical library, an e-book or audiobook can only be borrowed/checked out by a limited number of people at a time. If you find the title you want has already been checked out, you can usually put a hold/reservation on it for when it becomes available again.
Your e-book or audiobook should automatically disappear (or become unreadable) from your device once the allotted borrowing time has expired.
Turn your tablet or phone into a 'Kindle' for FREE, then take advantage of a free trial to access 'must-reads' & more
You may think to read books digitally that you need a Kindle (normally £70-£230 depending on the model) or similar device, but in fact you can get the same functionality just by downloading the free Kindle app*.
It's available on any compatible tablet or smartphone (iOS / Android), or even for a PC/Mac, and this gives you the same access to millions of e-books to read whenever, wherever you like, completely free of charge.
While the Kindle's main advantage is its special screen being optimised for reading, many modern tablets and phones have a built-in 'reading mode' which will alter the display to make it more suitable for reading a book.
Of course, the Kindle will allow you to read in bright sunshine with no glare (the same as with a traditional book), but it's not like most of us are going on holiday right now. So if the goal is just to read books electronically – and you can cope with a normal screen – you can do this on virtually any smartphone or tablet.
A bit like Spotify for readers, Kindle Unlimited* is a £7.99/month subscription service that gives you access to a library of a million books. You can borrow up to 10 titles at a time – goodies right now include all seven Harry Potter books, The World's Worst Children by David Walliams and Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah.
Even better, if you're new to Kindle Unlimited, you can take advantage of its 30-day free trial* (sign in to Amazon to view offers, as it offers some people longer). The catch is you'll need to finish any books you're reading by the end of the trial, as they disappear after that.
You'll need to give payment details to sign up, so make sure you remember to cancel if you don't want to continue with your subscription – otherwise you'll be charged £7.99 each month until you cancel.
New to Amazon's Audible? Get one audiobook totally free... though it could be worth waiting for Black Friday
If you're new to Amazon's Audible subscription service, you can take advantage of its 30-day free trial* to get a free audiobook, which you can keep. If you're also a Prime member, you'll get a second audiobook for free.
If you took out a trial a while ago, it's worth checking to see if it offers you another one, but there are no guarantees.
You'll need to give payment details to sign up. Audible obviously hopes that you'll end up paying, and will charge you £7.99 a month after the 30 days are up. If you don't want to continue with it, make sure you remember to cancel (and if you just want to grab the free audiobook, cancel as soon as you've got it).
It could be worth waiting a couple of weeks until Black Friday (27 November), as Audible often offers an extra free audiobook as a special deal. There's no guarantee it will do this, but it has done in previous years.
Listened to a good book and know someone else who'd enjoy it? If you've bought any Audible books (from Amazon's audiobook service), there's a trick which allows you to gift copies of them to friends and family.
To send a book, you'll need to own it already and have it in your 'My Library' section of the Audible app – but what's good is to do this trick you don't need to be a current Audible subscriber, and neither does the person you're sending it to.
Select the three vertical dots next to your chosen title and hit 'Send this book', then you can pick whether to send it by email or messaging app.
You can send as many of your audiobooks as you like, but bear in the mind the person you're sending it to will only be able to download and listen to it for free if it's the first time they've been sent an Audible book, so whichever you send them, make sure you pick wisely.
The recipient can then send the book to others themselves in the same way. You're also able to download your first book sent by a friend for free.
Audiobook seller Kobo works in a similar way to Audible and right now there's a trick to get a free audiobook and get PAID for doing it, by taking advantage of a free trial and a separate cashback offer.
How the trick works
- Sign up or log in to popular cashback site Topcashback*.
- Visit the Kobo retailer page at Topcashback and select 'Get Cashback Now' – this is so Topcashback can track your visit.
- Once at the Kobo site, select 'Audiobooks' and 'Start Free Trial' – you'll be given a credit in your Kobo account for one free audiobook, which you can keep.
After 30 days you'll be automatically enrolled into a monthly subscription at £6.99/month, so remember to cancel before the end of the 30-day trial if you don't want to keep it.
Topcashback says the £3.30 cashback for taking out the free audiobook trial should show in your account within a few hours. Remember though, cashback is never guaranteed, so see it as a bonus – check our full guide on cashback sites.
Read pre-release Kindle e-books for 'free' if you've Prime (99p if not)
If you've Amazon Prime membership, check out its First Reads* section. It lets you download one Kindle book per month for free from a selection of eight editors' picks.
The books are all pre-releases, so whichever you pick you'll be reading it a month before its official release. New titles are announced on the first of each month, with November's including Every Last Secret suspense novel by A.R. Torre, The Last Resort thriller by Susi Holliday, and The Snow Dancer children's book by Addie Boswell.
Not got Amazon Prime? You can still bag one 'First Read' book for 99p per month by subscribing to the First Reads newsletter – select 'Subscribe' at the top of the First Reads* page. The e-books would normally cost £3ish-£9, so this trick gives you a decent saving.
Free kids' e-books, including how to find hidden Kindle treasures
Most of the tips in this guide can be used to get free kids' e-books or audiobooks, but these next set of tricks are specifically for little literature lovers.
Uncover a treasure trove of normally paid-for kids' Kindle books
Amazon is heaving with classic Kindle books you'll remember from your own childhood that are permanently free, such as The Jungle Book and Black Beauty, as most are out of copyright – see a full list of free classics*.
However, if you know where to look, there are also usually hundreds of normally paid-for Kindle books offered for free at any one time. To discover the freebie titles, visit Amazon's kids' Kindle books section*, filter by age or genre, then sort by 'Price: low to high'. For example, see free books in Animals, Comics or for Ages six to eight.
Hundreds of FREE Audible kids' audiobooks, eg, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Audible has a whole catalogue of kids' audiobooks completely free – you don't even need to sign up – just choose what you want and stream it.
Audiobooks include Alice's Adventures in Wonderland narrated by Scarlett Johansson, Timeless Tales of Beatrix Potter: Peter Rabbit and Friends, and Kid Normal. Audible began offering these freebies at the start of the UK-wide lockdown earlier in the year, but it hasn't given an end date, so go quick if you want to get some listening in.
Access 40,000 kids' e-books for free with a 30-day trial, eg, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Ada Twist, Scientist
Epic is an app that's essentially Netflix for kids' e-books, and if you sign up for a free 30-day trial (newbies only), you can access 40,000 titles for free. Kids can read as much as they like from a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction titles aimed at under-12s.
Titles include kids' favourites such as Where the Wild Things Are, Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Ada Twist, Scientist. There's also a host of non-fiction books, including the National Geographic Readers series.
After your trial ends, you'll automatically be charged $7.99 a month (£6 at today's exchange rate), so make sure you remember and cancel online at any time during your trial if you don't want to keep it. You can't keep any books after you've cancelled. If you do decide to keep using Epic, consider a specialist travel card to avoid fees when making your payments, as it's a US site. Some schools provide pupils with a login to access the site for free, so check with yours before paying.
150 free Oxford Owl e-books, eg, Biff, Chip and Kipper
Recommended for kids aged three to 11, the Oxford Owl online library has a collection of 150 free e-books which are designed to help develop reading skills at home. Books include kid-favourite characters such as Biff, Chip and Kipper as well as Winnie the Witch.
To get stuck in, you'll need to register at Oxford Owl. It says its e-books are best viewed on a computer, laptop or tablet, as they're not optimised for phones.
Got Amazon Prime or on a free trial? Borrow 1,000+ e-books for 'free', eg, the first two Harry Potters and many Lonely Planets
If you've got Amazon Prime, you can read up to 10 selected e-books at once for free with its little-known digital 'borrowing' service, Prime Reading* – it offers over 1,000 titles on a rotating basis. All Prime members can do this, even those on a 30-day free trial, and you'll be able to read the books for as long as you have Prime.
While you've fewer books to choose from than Amazon's Kindle Unlimited service, there are still some gems here. When we checked on Monday 9 November, we spotted Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J.K. Rowling, The Ice Monster by David Walliams, Lonely Planet's The Travel Book, and Beneath a Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan.
Books can be read on a Kindle or Fire tablet, or by using the free Kindle app.
To add a book to your library, find the title in the Kindle store or browse the Prime Reading list* (only viewable by Prime members) and select a title. If the title is available via Prime Reading, it will show a cost of £0.00 with the Prime symbol next to it (see image). Once selected, it will appear in your Kindle library in the same way as other e-book purchases.
If you've got an Alexa-enabled device, such as an Echo smart speaker or Fire TV stick, you can listen to selected audiobooks each month completely free – just say 'Alexa, what's free from Audible?' to hear what's available. You don't need to have an Audible subscription or give it any payment details.
Past free titles have included Aladdin, Harry Potter, Oliver Twist, Pinocchio, Planet of the Apes, Treasure Island, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Usually there are three audiobooks you can listen to each month, but right now it's offering four.
New. Until Tuesday 24 November, you can listen to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein narrated by Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey, The Riddle of the Sands, Anna Karenina, and The Little Mermaid narrated by actress Tamsin Greig. Whichever you want to listen to, just ask Alexa to read it.
Free short stories – though you can only pick the genre, eg, mystery, sci-fi, kids
It's very easy to listen to short stories narrated by the likes of Stephen Fry, David Jason, Juliet Stevenson and more on your Alexa-enabled device.
To get it to work, say 'Alexa, open Audible Stories'. You'll then be asked to choose a genre, eg, mystery, sci-fi, horror, kids – Alexa will then randomly select a short story for you to listen to. Examples include The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Dracula's Guest, and The Trial for Murder.
New. Use the Google Assistant to listen to thousands of free audiobooks
If you've a Google Home/Nest speaker instead, or any device with the Google Assistant built in, such as a smartphone or tablet, you can ask it to read from thousands of free public domain audiobooks. These are generally titles that are out of copyright, so tend to be older literary works such as Pride & Prejudice, The Jungle Book, Treasure Island, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – see Book Reader for a full list.
To listen to free audiobooks, say 'Hey Google, talk to Book Reader'. You'll then be asked to say the name of the audiobook you'd like read to you or, if you're unsure, you can say 'give me suggestions'.
Use free online tools to nab e-book bargains
With so many free e-books available, there are some nifty free tools you can use online to help find 'must-reads' and books that suit your taste, including...
BookBub daily alerts
Sign up to BookBub to receive free daily alerts when 'must-read' e-books in your selected genres are free or going super-cheap.
Search freebies or set up price-drop alerts
You can also use eReaderIQ to search for free books, or set up price-drop alerts that'll notify you when specific books you've told it you want to read are reduced in price, so you can pounce at precisely the right moment.
Fall in love with free romance novels
A clever online tool – Pillow Talk – pumps out freebies and bargains in one of the most popular genres of fiction, romance. Whether you prefer your romantic novels set against a Western, historical or sci-fi backdrop, it lets you filter the deals to suit your taste.
To find steals, hit 'All Deals', choose a genre, then under 'Book stores', select Amazon UK to see a list of free titles. You may see a dollar sign next to the normal price, but the regular cost in pounds should be the same as in dollars. Alternatively, enter your email address to get alerts on freebies and bargains in your favourite romance sub-genres.
E-book seller Kobo, which also makes a rival device to the Kindle, has a regularly-updated section with 700+ free fiction and non-fiction e-books, including romance, mystery & thriller, fantasy & horror, science fiction and more genres.
You'll need to sign up for free to access the e-books, and then you'll be able to either download them to your computer, view them in the free Kobo app, or on a Kobo reader if you have one.
If using the Kobo app, once you've signed up/in, select the menu and then choose 'Free eBooks' – you can then choose the book you want to read from several genres. Once you've selected 'Add to My Books', you'll be able to read the book on your device.
Anyone visually impaired can access thousands of titles online
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has an online library that includes thousands of fiction and non-fiction books and audiobooks for adults and kids.
It's free to join for anyone who is blind, partially sighted or has an impairment that prevents them from reading standard print. Complete its registration form and either email it, print and post or contact the RNIB helpline on 0303 123 9999.
Prefer a traditional book? Borrow from a 'Little Free Library'
The Little Free Library project is run by volunteers across the globe. It's a community book exchange where anyone can leave a book or borrow a book.
The tiny hutch-sized libraries are usually found in front gardens, playgrounds, phone boxes and bus shelters across the UK. For more details, see MSE Rhiannon's Little Free Library blog.
Of course, if you do decide to borrow books at the moment, it's advisable to clean and disinfect them – see the Government's latest coronavirus info.
MoneySaver Krystyna runs a library from her front garden:
We love our Little Free Library. As well as doing our bit to promote literacy, it's a great conversation starter with neighbours! My kids love to excitedly tell me when they spot someone having a rummage or donating a book. It's such a lovely community initiative.
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