With the cost of living crisis affecting everyone’s finances right now, many are cutting back on their entertainment. With the wide range of free downloadable public domain ebooks and audiobooks, there is no need for us to deprive ourselves of something to read or listen to. With this list, my goal is to show you the best websites for public domain literary content so you don’t have to start the search from scratch!
Before we continue, most websites host books that are in the US public domain. Public domain rules vary by country, so be sure to check your country’s rules before downloading material so you don’t break the law. In the UK, for example, you would ensure that the author and any translators or illustrators died over 70 calendar years ago. Let’s say an author died in 1850 but the translator of the book didn’t die until 1965, you would add 71 years (the extra year takes you to the end of the calendar) to check if the work is still in the public domain; the result is 2036, so you’ll have to wait until January 1, 2036 before downloading this title in the UK.
1. Standard eBooks
The first place to check when looking for something to read is Standard Ebooks. This is a relatively new website that will only go live in 2015, but as of this month, the website hosts over 680 well-designed e-books. The community sticks to “strong and modern” rules when designing their books to make sure they look professional and cohesive.
Apart from well-designed e-books, the website has moderately powerful search tools to help you narrow down search results, it provides word counts and reading ease scores for books, offers a brief description of the book and makes downloads available in a range of formats, including epub, azw3, kepub and advanced epub. If you want to preview a book before downloading it, there is an option to read it online. Visit Standard eBooks.
While some people prefer to read their books, others prefer to listen to an audiobook on the way to work or the gym. Just as there are public domain ebooks available for free, there are also public domain audiobooks. The most popular place to find them is a website called LibriVox where you can volunteer to read books or just head to the catalog to find something to listen to.
To get started, you can browse the catalog by author, title, genre or language. If you already know a book you want to search for, just type the title in the search bar. Once you’ve found something you’re interested in, you have several download options. You can zip the entire book via direct download or torrent, you can subscribe to the audiobook and listen to individual chapters on iTunes, or you can add the RSS feed to your favorite podcasting app. Alternatively, you can press the play button next to each of the chapters to listen in your web browser.
As these audiobooks are provided voluntarily by members of the LibriVox community, playbacks vary widely, although most are of acceptable quality. In the case of some books, especially the most popular ones like Pride and Prejudice, there are several renders available so you can find the one you like best. Visit LibriVox.
3. Project Gutenberg
Next on the list is Project Gutenberg, named after the creator of the movable-type printing press, Johannes Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg has a huge library of over 60,000 free eBooks and you’ll find that many are well-styled and will transfer to your eReader without issue. The books on this website can be read online (and then saved in PDF format) or downloaded in ebook format, including epub and mobi. Some titles are also available directly in PDF format or as plain text files.
The reason for including this site in the list is due to the amount of content available. If you’re not too concerned about the quality of formatting, this website is excellent. Unfortunately, not all books are formatted well, so you may encounter issues such as chapters not being available or parts of the text not using the best fonts for the job. Visit Project Gutenberg.
4. Internet Archive
Another website that I like for quantity rather than quality is Internet Archive. Most of you reading this have heard of the Wayback Machine from this website and have used it to show websites how they looked in the past, but it also hosts a huge collection of books, videos , music and software. These can be viewed using the search function. To limit your search to books, be sure to check “texts” in the Media Type section of the sidebar.
The biggest downside to this website is that most of the books are in PDF format rather than ebook format. When there is an e-book format available for download, the quality may not be the best. However, if the other recommendations don’t have a book you’re looking for, the Internet Archive may have a copy. Visit the Internet Archive.
5. Global Gray
Going back to websites with smaller and better collections, we come to Global Grey. This website – run by a woman – offers 2,000 free e-books that cover everything from classic literature to the occult, psychology, folklore and more. You can find books via categories, recently added, by author, by book series, and by reading list. Books on this site have custom covers similar to standard e-books and can be downloaded in PDF, epub, mobi or azw3 format. If you don’t want to download them, you can read them online.
A nice bonus with this website is the ability to purchase book collections. The money you pay is used to maintain the website and the work of the creator and you receive various collections of books in all their formats. Some of the collections include Ancient Civilizations Collection, Children’s Literature Collection, History Collection, Poetry Collection, Philosophy Collection, Religion Collection, and several others. Visit Global Grey.
6. Sticmann Ink Homeschool Collection
The final entry on this list is the Homeschool eBook collection from Sticmann Ink. To give some context, these books appear in a home school program called Ambleside Online. The person who compiled these books took most of the titles from Gutenberg and tweaked the layout to make them more readable. I also remember at least one title from this list that was not available elsewhere as an ebook despite being in the public domain.
This list contains many amazing books in both azw3 and epub formats, ranging from high-quality children’s books to those suitable for teens and adults. They are grouped by school years in which they appear on Ambleside Online and this can be used to judge their reading difficulty. As they were designed for an educational program, these titles are particularly suitable for reading by children. Visit the Sticmann Ink Homeschool collection.
I hope you find these websites a good place to start looking for public domain eBooks. In my opinion, the easiest way to read the titles is to download the epub files and read them in Google Play Books or Apple’s iBooks. If you prefer to read them on your computer or eReader, take a look at the very powerful Caliber book management software, available for free on Windows, macOS and Linux.
If you’re not looking to buy a classic right now, be sure to check out Neowin’s sponsored eBook deals which are also available for free.