20 tricks to access 1,000s of free e-books & audiobooks
Lockdown has brought out the bookworm in many of us. And with libraries and bookshops currently off limits for most people, digital books can't be beaten for convenience. 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.
So whether you want to curl up with a crime novel or read a biography in the bath, arm yourself with these top tips, including bag free Kindle books for writing reviews, max 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, coronavirus restrictions might mean your local library is temporarily closed or just offering a click and collect service, and 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...
What books are available?
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 in Kent have over 30,000 e-books and more than 5,000 audiobooks available online, including fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children via the Libby app.
Members of Lincolnshire County Council libraries can access over 16,800 fiction and non-fiction e-books via the RB Digital app.
Anyone who's a member of a library run by Edinburgh City Council can borrow nearly 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.
How many books can I borrow and for how long?
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.
It's possible to bag free advance Kindle e-books in return for writing reviews by signing up for free at NetGalley. The idea's simple: you read e-books for free in return for leaving your feedback on its site. There's no pressure to give a glowing review – you've free rein to write what you think about a book. It also hopes you'll share what you think on the likes of Amazon, Twitter or social reading website Goodreads.
It lets you request freebies from a choice of thousands of books, often by popular authors such as Victoria Hislop, Adam Kay and Marian Keyes.
Books are big business. By getting feedback on what works and what doesn't, publishers can boost sales. Add the power of word-of-mouth recommendations to generate a buzz, and it's clear why they're happy to give out a few preview copies for nowt.
Can anyone do this?
Yes, NetGalley says it's open to "anyone who reads and recommends books". There's a 'Read Now' section where you can download selected titles instantly without approval, but this has fewer books.
A different section lets you choose from the full list. But publishers will need to approve who they give free books to – it's not guaranteed you'll get every title.
I've bagged several brilliant books this way. Last week I was approved for The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, which I was desperate to read and it's not even out till February. I also got the 2020 Booker winner Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart. The more books you review, the more publishers are likely to approve your requests.
How it works
- Sign up to NetGalley as a reviewer for free. It will ask you to write a short profile. This is how publishers decide whether to accept your request, so include details such as where you usually review books or if you're in a book club. See NetGalley's tips on writing a profile. In the 'Reading Preferences' section, tick your favourite genres, eg, fiction, romance or crime.
- Request books. As above, there are two sections. With the first, Read Now, you can download instantly, without needing publisher approval, but it's a smaller list. The other, Find Titles, is a bigger list but you have to request books, and you're not guaranteed to get them. You should find out by email in a few days if the publisher approves your request.
You can read your e-book on the free NetGalley Shelf app (available on the Apple App Store and Google Play). You can also send copies of most books to your Kindle, Kobo or Nook – see a full how to here.
- Write your review. Go to your 'Shelf' and click 'Give Feedback'. There's no strict deadline for reviews, but if it's an advance copy, most users try to submit by the publication date. NetGalley advises reviewing at least 80% of your freebies as your feedback ratio is a key stat publishers consider when approving requests. The higher it is, the more likely you are to have future requests approved.
NetGalley has tips on reviewing, which include briefly describing the plot first and avoiding spoilers. You can be honest, but you may wish to write diplomatically. For example, "this wasn't for me" rather than "this book was a complete pile of pants".
Tips to become a super reviewer
Don't request too many books at first. A common mistake when people first join is to request every book going. You need to review 80% of books to stay in good standing with publishers, so you'll want to keep your list manageable and only select books you're genuinely interested in.
Many NetGalley users report getting approved for more than they anticipated at first. As a non-scientific example, as a newbie I requested 10 and got approved for five. Bear in mind there's more competition for big releases though.
Try requesting books on NetGalley's US site. You can request books on the NetGalley.co.uk and NetGalley.com sites. I've been approved for books on both. You're more likely to get approved for books on the UK site, but it's definitely worth trying the US version too.
Check out alternative sites. Also worth a look, US site Edelweiss works in a similar way. It's slightly more fiddly to use and has a US bias. Go to 'Review Copies' to see what's on offer. If you click on 'download', you'll see a list of titles you can get straightaway without requesting publisher approval.
Follow authors you love on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Many writers share competitions for coveted 'advance reader copies'. You may be able to bag hard copies of books this way.
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 up to £320 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...
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).
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 £1.70 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 February's including The Deadly Mystery of the Missing Diamonds by T.E. Kinsey and Infinate by Brian Freeman.
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.
Top freebies we spotted include Off With Their Heads and Dinosaur Jokes.
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 last 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 The Princess in Black, Where the Wild Things Are and Ada Twist, Scientist. There's also a host of non-fiction books, including the National Geographic Readers series.
To sign up, download the free app from Google Play or the Apple App Store. Alternatively, use Epic's desktop site.
After your trial ends, you'll automatically be charged $9.99 a month (£7.30 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, Lonely Planet's The Travel Book, PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern 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.
How to use Prime Reading
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.
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.
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.
Which tricks do you use for getting free books or audiobooks? Do you have any book recommendations? Let us know in the comments below, or on Twitter.