How to Read Books Online for Free

  • Post last modified:September 27, 2022

Because you can actually read books online for free. (Legally.) Trust–I needed these resources to get through school and owe them a lot.

Y’all already know my stance on pirating books. If you don’t, know that I don’t take kindly to people who steal the work of hardworking writers and publishers.

I also don’t believe in services like Kindle Unlimited (the bane of my existence), but that’s a tangent I’m not going off on right now.

Luckily, if you’re one of those people it’s simple to change and do so much more good, and the first step is being on this article so yay! So, here are some places you can read books completely for free, no catches, and without harming the literary industry.

Places You Can Read Books Online for Free

Project Gutenberg

Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way. Project Gutenberg is kinda the OG “free book” space. It’s a magical space (especially for English majors) where pretty much all of the out-of-copyright books are collected for you to download in various formats. No app or login needed. I’ll admit, the website needs an update, but for all the work these volunteers do, I’ll let it slide. If you’re wanting a slightly more aesthetic choice, however . . .

Standard Ebooks

. . . we have Standard Ebooks. This one is a favorite for perfectionists (like me) and those who prefer a book that looks pretty (also me, and I’m not ashamed). Standard Ebooks is pretty similar to Project Gutenberg, except it is like the older, more refined sister for finding books online for free. Most out-of-copyright books are uploaded a bit carelessly–typos, gross formatting, blank covers, etc. Standard Ebooks is run by volunteers who grab those out-of-copyright scripts and give them a makeover, redesigning and proofreading so that you get a much better reading experience. Standard eBooks is new on the scene compared to Project Gutenberg, so their catalogue inevitably isn’t as large, but it is a quality selection.


As a voracious audiobook lover, this is a favorite. When I was a student and had to get through like 5+ books a week, LibriVox was often the first place I would check. It’s sort of like Project Gutenberg in that all the books are out-of-copyright, and people have volunteered their voices to read them aloud. Some of the recordings are a bit rough, but truly, there are some gems on there that rival the “official” audiobook versions. There’s also an app, so you can access these books right from your phone!


I, too, am an introvert (well ambivert but you get my point) and absolutely would rather not have to go to my library, but listen, you only have to do it once! Then, you get access to their entire online catalogue and can just check out books from the comfort of your phone. The best! A lot of libraries also provide access to other networks, so you can check those catalogues out as well. Just check online or, if the site is a lil rough, shoot your local librarians an email asking for a little explanation.

If you don’t have a library nearby, there are some libraries that allow you to join as a non-resident. Most have you pay a fee, admittedly, but I think that’s more than fair when you see the amount of books you receive. I have a handy-dandy list of some of these libraries here.

Places That Aren’t What They Seem

If you find a book online that seems too good to be true–like a brand-new release next to a simple download button–it probably is. More than likely, you are stealing, and also supporting those who make it so easy–AKA, those sites with a million ads that publish work they’ve taken without permission and profit off of it. Beware.

There are a few places that offer books online for free and seem legit out there and disguise themselves better than others. I’ve been guilty of using them before, thinking that I was totally in the right law-wise. One in particular is:

Open Library

Open Library is a division of the Internet Archive, and is, in my opinion, one of the most legit-seeming ones out there. Basically, they have taken physical copies of books and scanned the entire thing, and then uploaded it into their online collection for any person to “borrow”.

Isn’t that the same as a regular library handing out ebooks? you may be asking yourself. On the surface it seems like it, but nope, in fact libraries have to jump through many different hoops in order to loan out their ebooks, which Open Library is circumventing altogether.

See, when libraries make an ebook available, they aren’t just paying $0.99 like the rest of us–they are actually purchasing a license from the publisher that allows them to lend a copy out. These licenses are expensive, which makes sense when you think of how easy it is to pass around an ebook. You also have to wait your turn just like you would with a physical copy. Places like Open Library don’t do this.

It seems pretty legit on the surface. Making books online for free for everyone–a no-brainer! But it isn’t that simple. Yes, I believe people should have access to books, and in a perfect world, we would all be able to get whatever book we wanted, whenever we wanted, and the author would also be rich. But it isn’t a perfect world, and right now, the quest for “you deserve every book you want” is costing authors and publishers their livelihoods. And that isn’t something that I’m okay with. I hope you feel the same.

Is Open Library as bad as outright pirating? No, of course it doesn’t have quite the same effect. But I think people should be informed either way, and this is one that tricks a lot of well-intentioned people.

Before I go, I want to thank the Author’s Guild for providing so much of my information when it comes to copyright laws and correctly supporting authors. They are my go-to source when it comes to many of these questions, and I learn something every time I visit their site. Check them out!

Do you have any legal sites you’d recommend where you can download books online for free? If you do, I’d love to add them to this list!

Much love,

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Allie

    Okay, I’ll bite (Also because I was thinking of keeping it after my free trial is up in 10 days). Why don’t you believe in Kindle Unlimited? Please enlighten me, so I know I’m making a mistake before I do! Thanks!

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