Can you read books for free and legally? Reading is a privileged hobby, but it really shouldn’t be. In fact, reading should be accessible to everyone!
The barriers that prevent people, particularly those in the Global South, from accessing literature are clear manifestations of the rampant anti-intellectualism and classism that continue to prevail today. And these barriers need to be dismantled.
How? I’ll admit that I don’t have all the answers. But one thing’s for sure: telling poor and disadvantaged readers to go to poorly maintained, or outright nonexistent, libraries isn’t it. Especially when data from Nielsen* suggest that the bulk of illegal book downloads come from educated, middle-class adults (aged 30 to 44 years old).
* Note: A single study, especially one conducted in a relatively small scale, is neither generalizable nor representative of the whole global population. But I do hope that more and more researchers will examine this issue.
Is book piracy bad?
Frankly, I think that centering the discussion on the morality of the piracy derails from the more important question: Why do readers resort to pirating? For some, it could be a matter of ease, convenience, and entitlement. But for others, it could point to a larger issue of inaccessibility and financial incapability. This is especially true for readers in the Global South.
For instance, in the Philippines, millions of Filipino children don’t have access to books. Especially those in underprivileged, remote, and conflicted areas. While this might not sound as devastating as the countless natural disasters that tear through my country, it does tie into larger societal ills, such as steep anti-intellectualism and low reading comprehension among the Filipino youth.
But because the Internet is a Western-centric space, whenever the topic of book piracy is brought up, these nuances are hardly acknowledged. As a Global South blogger and Filipino reader, it sucks and it’s hurtful. Our continued exclusion from the conversation is exactly why I no longer chime in whenever “book piracy” circulates social media.
Stop yelling at me about libraries.
Back in 2018, I compiled a list of legal alternatives to book pirating. Because at the time, the book piracy discourse was making its usual rounds and the “use libraries if you’re too poor to read” takes were overwhelming my feed.
Fast forward to 2021. The book piracy discourse continues to make its usual rounds. And the hot takes? Still roughly the same as before. Only more annoying, in my humble opinion. But I digress.
To drive home the point that yelling about nonexistent libraries does nothing, here is another list of resources that you can use to legally access free and discounted books!
Read Free Books
🍃 Email alerts on free and discounted books
There are plenty of great book deals out there! You just have to find them. Especially when the offers are only good for a limited time.
Thankfully, there are numerous subscription services that send out email alerts about free and extremely discounted e-books and audiobooks. Furthermore, the best part is that the book deals in your inbox will match your preferences in terms of genre, tropes, and other content.
Personally, my favorite services are BookBub and Book Cave. Aside from great handpicked recommendations, BookBub also lets you follow authors and sends you alerts when their books are offered at a much lower price. (For example, I received an email when Sangu Mandanna and Julie Kagawa’s books dropped to $2.99!) Meanwhile, Book Cave provides helpful content ratings and warnings.
Aside from these two, you can also check out these other great sites to help you read free and discounted books:
🍃 Harlequin’s Online Reads
Harlequin is the leading publisher of books for women, particularly romance novels. Their site includes Harlequin’s Online Reads, which offers various serialized stories from their authors. Additionally, to make things more exciting, new chapters are posted every week!
You can find your next romance read based on your wants (e.g. be seduced, sit on the edge of my seat, ride off into the sunset) or based on your free time (e.g. 30 mins, 45 mins, 60 mins). They also have a free, downloadable app so that you can read free books on-the-go!
If audiobooks butter your roll, then maybe you should give LibriVox a try! Specifically, this site offers public domain audiobooks that you can listen to without spending a single cent. In addition, there are plenty of non-English audiobooks that you can choose from.
With over 50,000 free e-books waiting to be discovered, ManyBooks is the place to be! Explore their large collection of free books by genre and get fantastic recommendations from their editors. Moreover, from popular classics to best-selling novels, you can read free books that you’re bound to enjoy.
🍃 Open Library
Open Library is another great resource if you want to read books for free. Specifically, it is an open, editable library catalog that lets you read and loan e-books.
Currently, it houses thousands of titles — from textbooks, mystery and detective stories, to science fiction — and it’s maintained by passionate volunteers. In other words, you can use this site for both academic reading and leisure reading.
🍃 Penlab.ink 🇵🇭
For comic fans, I’ve got the perfect recommendation for you! Penlab.ink is a digital platform for webtoons, visual narratives, and comics by Filipino creatives! It’s a fresh initiative that aims to bring quality Filipino komiks together in one place. Plus, it offers stories from various genres, such as science fiction and fantasy, comedy, romance, and suspense.
🍃 Project Gutenberg
Do you enjoy classics and world literature? Read these books for free through Project Gutenberg! This site is an accessible library that offers more than 60,000 free titles. Moreover, you can find the world’s greatest literature, with a focus on older works and books with expired US copyright.
🍃 Prolific Works App
Prolific Works, previously known as Instafreebie, tries to bridge the distance between small, independently published authors and their right audience. Specifically, authors use their services to distribute their books to new readers who, in turn, get to read them for free.
All you need to read free books through Prolific Works is to download their app. By downloading, you will be part of their growing community of 1 million readers. In addition, you’ll easily find new reads without hurting your wallet! Prolific Works is perfect if you’re in the mood to discover new authors.
🍃 Quirky Blind Date with a Book
If you enjoy having book blind dates, then Quirky Blind Date with a Book is your perfect match! It started as a quaint Facebook group in 2016, but it’s grown exponentially since then.
Here’s how it works: Its creators, Amber and Crystal, release monthly sign-up forms, where you select as many blind dates as you want. All you’ll get to see on the form are the books’ taglines and nothing else. Afterwards, you need to wait for the books to be sent to your Kindle app or e-reader. And then it’s time to get some free reading!
But do take note that you are required to give feedback for every book blind date that you receive. The feedback doesn’t need to be a full-length review or analysis, though. Additionally, those who fail to submit feedback on time will be barred from joining sign-ups for the next month.
Honestly, this online community is one of my favorite bookish haunts, and I wish more people would know about it. I’ve stumbled across several hidden gems because of quirky blind dates. Find more information on their website or join their Facebook group.
Riveted by Simon Teen, otherwise known as RivetedLit, is an online bookish hub that offers readers access to extended excerpts and even full books of Simon & Schuster titles for free. The selection of available titles changes every two weeks or every month.
For January 2021, their available free reads include the following:
- Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells (full book)
- Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi (full book)
- Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman (full book)
- Crown of Feathers by Nicki Pau Preto (full book)
Personally, I’m an avid fan of RivetedLit. Because of this site, I was able to read popular YA books such as An Enchantment of Ravens, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, and Shatter the Sky. Furthermore, if you sign up for their newsletter, you will receive a free e-book, too!
Tor.com offers the best science fiction and fantasy novellas. (See, for example, The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark.) I did not think that my love for them could go any deeper. Until I discovered Tor.com allows people to read original fiction, comics, poetry, and reprinted stories on their website! Yay!
What amazing literary treasure will you find, you ask? I got you. Here are some of my picks:
- City of Red Midnight: A Hikayat by Usman T. Malik
- We Come as Gods by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
- Juice Like Wounds by Seanan McGuire
- Beyond the Dragon’s Gate by Yoon Ha Lee
- St. Valentine, St. Abigail, St. Brigid by C.L. Polk
- As the Last I May Know by S.L. Huang
- Blood Is Another Word for Hunger by Rivers Solomon
🍃 The Reading Project 🇵🇭
According to their page, The Reading Project is a social pursuit that helps promote a reading culture and improve the reading proficiency of Filipino youth by developing fun programs and providing them the necessary tools and support they need in their reading journey.
At the moment, they’ve started a free reading program that Filipino readers can sign up for. Filipino parents can register for their kids. It sounds like a spectacular initiative, and I’m hoping to donate some of my pre-loved books and ARCs to them soon.
Who doesn’t know about the existence of Wattpad? Wattpad connects a global community of millions of readers and writers through the power of story. It’s a bountiful hub for user-generated stories, with some titles eventually getting picked up and published to bookstores.
🍃 Webcomics Hub
Are you a reader who enjoys comics? WebComics Hub houses a large directory of free webcomics. If you struggle with deciding where to start, there’s a “random webcomic” option that you can use. Have fun!
Buy Discounted Books
🍃 Limited-time Kindle book discounts
Can you have too many email alerts about book deals? Perhaps. But personally, while discovering free books is great, my Asian sensibilities leap for joy when it comes to heavily discounted books.
One of my go-to sources for Kindle book discounts is Book Riot’s newsletter. Their team sends out daily newsletters on book deals that cost $5.00 or less. That’s at least half the price! If you lean towards popular books or books from traditional imprints, then I highly recommend subscribing to them.
Aside from Book Riot, I have my own regular feature called Quick Kindle Steals, which focuses on limited-time Kindle book discounts that cost $2.99 or less. In other words, you need to quickly nab them before they’re gone! I post these deals on my website (either via blog post or by displaying them on my sidebar), and if I’m feeling lazy, on Twitter through the hashtag #QuickKindleSteals.
🍃 Booksale Philippines 🇵🇭
Booksale‘s promise is “We make reading affordable” and yep, they do. They sell books at really cheap prices, and they have several branches that Filipino readers can check out. While I personally have never gone to Booksale, I know many of my friends have discovered amazing finds from this store.
🍃 Bookay-Ukay Pilipinas 🇵🇭
I accidentally stumbled across this quaint hole-in-the-wall place when I was looking for a new restaurant in Maginhawa. Bookay-Ukay Pilipinas is a small store that sells pre-loved and secondhand books at great prices!
During my first visit, I bought a hardcover edition of The Darkest Corners for just PHP 250, which is approximately $5. It’s in great condition! And you can bet that I plan on revisiting this store post-pandemic.
🍃 Online bargain shops
E-commerce has really changed the game. But shipping fees can be a massive pain to international readers. I’ve been there. Thankfully, there are online shops that offer free shipping and have virtual bargain bins with cheaper-priced titles.
- Alibris has book, music, and movie bargains.
- Book Depository has great bargains and free shipping worldwide.
- Book Outlet has plentiful sales, bargains for pre-loved books, student discounts, and free shipping on orders that cost $35 or more.
- Wordery has an exclusive club for students and offers free shipping to over 100 countries.
🍃 Online secondhand bookstores
Pre-loved books are significantly cheaper than brand new books. Now, you can shop for these secondhand treasures online with ease. Thank you, e-commerce!
My personal favorite is ThriftBooks, which has millions of titles — both brand new and pre-loved — and uses 100% recycled packaging. In addition, from my experience, the shipping fee didn’t hurt my wallet too badly. Shipping to the Philippines cost me around $3 to $5 for every book. My favorite purchase from this store is a used paperback of The Hour of Daydreams ($3.99) simply because I couldn’t find it anywhere, online or offline.
Aside from ThriftBooks, you can also explore the collections of these amazing online secondhand bookstores:
🇵🇭 For my fellow Filipino readers, here are some online local shops and groups where you can find secondhand books:
- Bookbed is a great bookish community that has its own store for secondhand titles.
- Book Duke is a Davao-based online bookstore for new and used books.
- Bookulaw is great for academic materials, textbooks, and non-fiction.
- Porch Reader Philippines has new and used books at affordable prices.
- Second Hand Books Philippines is a Facebook group where Filipino readers can buy and sell pre-loved books.
- The Book Snoop is a hugely popular online bookstore on Facebook.
Bookish Instagram shops are also growing in popularity. Especially among Filipino readers. Personally, I’m unhauling my own pre-loved possessions by selling them on Instagram (@shealeasells). For every purchase, you can also claim a free ARC or two! And do check out my IG shop’s following so that you can find other shops.
E-book and audiobook subscriptions are a great way to save on books! There are several to choose from, but I am personally fond of Scribd. It’s a large digital library that offers access in exchange for a monthly subscription fee.
If you’re unsure if you can commit to their service, that’s okay! Scribd has a 30-day free trial that you can take advantage of. But if you use my referral link, you can claim a 60-day free trial instead.
Miscellaneous Resources for Reading Free Books
🍃 Participating in book tours
Book tours are promotional assets wherein a book is featured across various websites and bookish platforms, such as book blogs, booktube channels, and bookstagram accounts. Features include book reviews, spotlights, author interviews, and other creative content. Participants are called book tour hosts, who receive complimentary copies of the book in exchange for their content.
Book tours are organized by book tour companies. You can find various companies through a quick Google search. But here are a few that you can check out:
🍃 Requesting review copies
As part of marketing and promotions, publishing houses, presses, and authors distribute Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) among certain readers for early reviews. It’s a strategy to build hype and generate early buzz before the books are released. Thus, readers, particularly those with platforms, receive ARCs in exchange for their time to read and write an honest review.
Of course, requesting ARCs is not a guarantee. I also don’t want to mislead anyone into thinking that it’s a gamble with equal chances for everyone. Instead, much like many opportunities, it’s a game of privilege.
However, if you want to shoot your shot, below are popular third-party sites where you can make requests:
And hey, you can my spreadsheet template to keep track of your ARC requests and whatnot.
🍃 Subscribing to author newsletters
Author newsletters are a great way to forge personal connections between authors and their readers. Which is why I’m subscribed to so many! In addition, sometimes authors use their newsletters to alert their readers about discounts, sales, giveaways, and occasional freebies.
🍃 Trading books with other readers
There are various pockets on the Internet for trading books and ARCs. Nowadays, you can easily trade with readers from other countries (as long as the shipping fee is bearable). This opens up more opportunities for you to get books that might be rare or are entirely unavailable in your area. Check out:
🍃 Using Twitter hashtags
But more interestingly, there’s the #bookishwish hashtag started by Julie (@DailyJulianne). The idea is to tweet your wishlist with the hashtag attached and hope that a generous soul comes to grant it. From my own experience, I’ve had several of my bookish wishes granted, and I’m forever thankful.
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Thank you for reading!
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I’d love to hear from you!
🌻 Have you tried any of these resources? Did you discover anything new from this list?
🌻 Are you an international reader? How would you describe the access to books in your country?
🌻 Are you a fellow reader on a tight budget? How do you balance between your love for books and your need to save money?