Columns > Published on February 5th, 2019

Places To Read and Listen To Books For Free

Header image via Ellie Burgin

The holiday season is well and truly over and bank balances around the world are diminished, but our appetites for books and stories are as abundant as ever. Lucky for you, I’ve compiled a list of places you can read and listen to books for free. Legally!


Libby (by OverDrive)

Libby allows you to access thousands of eBooks and audiobooks simply by logging in with your library card. Libby has a huge selection of eBooks including titles by Ramsey Campbell, Sarah Pinborough, Raymond Carver, and M.R. James, as well as a reasonable selection of audiobooks. If you have numerous library cards for different regions, you can add them all to your account and switch between cards with ease. Unlike many other apps, Libby is not restricted to a small number of countries. In fact, it works with 30,000+ libraries in 40+ countries with a catalogue of over 2 million eBooks, audiobooks, and videos. The only drawback is that its popularity may mean you have to wait longer than most services for books to become available. You can borrow each title for up to 14 days (or longer if you renew).

Libby, by OverDrive

BorrowBox

BorrowBox is similar to Libby but it’s audiobooks-only and predominantly serves the UK. I’ve found there are more audiobooks I want to borrow here than Libby and with shorter waiting times. Highlights include IQ84 by Haruki Murakami, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Hunger by Alma Katsu, and The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay. You can borrow or reserve four audiobooks at once and can keep each book for 20 days (or longer if you renew and your title hasn’t been reserved). The audio player is easy to navigate with a modern design and all the features you’d expect (speed settings, skip forwards and backwards 30-seconds, jump between chapters). BorrowBox is available in other countries such as the USA, but not as many local libraries have signed up for it stateside, so it may not be compatible with your library card.

BorrowBox—your library in one app

LibriVox

While the two options above give you access to professional audiobooks, LibriVox takes a more DIY approach. Public domain books are read by volunteers from around the world. The pros are there are no region restrictions and over 12,000 titles to choose from. The cons are the quality of recordings vary from book-to-book and the app isn’t as intuitive as other options.

LibriVox | free public domain audiobooks

Project Gutenberg

You can’t talk about places to consume books free-of-charge without mentioning Project Gutenberg. With over 58,000 eBooks, Project Gutenberg is the oldest digital library and has a website to match. Luckily navigation is simple, and books are ordered logically so you can go from fiction to horror and find yourself feasting on the likes of Ambrose Bierce, William Hope Hodgson, Arthur Machen, and quite frankly every other writer of horror and supernatural literature you’d expect to find in the public domain. Once you’ve navigated through to the author and title of your choice there are various options from downloading epubs and mobis to viewing the text directly from your browser.

Project Gutenberg

International Children’s Digital Library

The ICDL’s mission is to provide children with stories from around the world. There are a lot of tales here you’ll be hard pushed to find in your local library, introducing you and your children to other cultures. Right now, Celtic Tales, Legends of the Maori, and The Hare of Inaba (from Japan) grace the homepage. The biggest drawback: the website is a little outdated and the pages appear to have been scanned and uploaded, so you’ll need to zoom in to read some of the books with smaller text. Still, that’s a small negative for access to a bunch of diverse tales you’d likely never have had access to.

International Children’s Digital Library—A Library for the World's Children

Google Books

Google Books dubs itself “the world's most comprehensive index of full-text books.” Most books have an entry in Google Books—some provide you with information on the text and where you can buy it, others deliver a searchable preview of the book (similar to Amazon’s ‘look inside’ feature), and others still provide the entire text. Even those that don’t have the full text may have a preview of around 20%, so it’ll give you a decent idea if that book is a good fit for you.  

Google Books—The World's Most Comprehensive Index of Full-Text Books

Online Magazines and Podcasts

There are so many great magazines that release some or all of their short stories on their website free-of-charge. Websites include The New Yorker, Nightmare, The Dark, and Failbetter

Then there are podcasts, some of which include The NoSleep Podcast, Drabblecast, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast, Hawk & Cleaver's The Other Stories, Pseudopod, Tales To Terrify, and The Wrong Station

Other Places For Free Stories 

  • Hoopla Digital is a service similar to Libby but for US and Canadian residents only.
  • Open Library states its ultimate goal is “to make all the published works of humankind available to everyone in the world.” Unfortunately, it seems to time out a lot, so isn't one of my top picks. 
  • Feedbooks: The public domain section of Feedbooks is similar to Project Gutenberg but with less books and a better looking website. 
  • PDF Books World: No prizes for guessing what this is—public domain books in PDF format. PDFs are my least favourite file format for eBooks but hey, for some they may be top dog. If that’s you then the PDF mecca that is PDF Books World is for you.

So, over to you, what are your favourite apps and websites to read and listen to free books online?

About the author

Michael David Wilson is the founder of the popular UK horror website, podcast, and publisher, This Is Horror. Michael is the author of the novella, The Girl in the Video, and the novel, They’re Watching, co-written with Bob Pastorella. His second novella, House of Bad Memories, lands in 2021 via Grindhouse Press. His work has appeared in various publications including The NoSleep PodcastDim ShoresDark Moon DigestLitReactorHawk & Cleaver’s The Other Stories, and Scream. You can connect with Michael on Twitter @WilsonTheWriter. For more information visit www.michaeldavidwilson.co.uk.

Similar Columns

Explore other columns from across the blog.

Book Brawl: Geek Love vs. Water for Elephants

In Book Brawl, two books that are somehow related will get in the ring and fight it out for the coveted honor of being declared literary champion. Two books enter. One book leaves. This month,...

The 10 Best Sci-Fi Books That Should Be Box Office Blockbusters

It seems as if Hollywood is entirely bereft of fresh material. Next year, three different live-action Snow White films will be released in the States. Disney is still terrorizing audiences with t...

Books Without Borders: Life after Liquidation

Though many true book enthusiasts, particularly in the Northwest where locally owned retailers are more common than paperback novels with Fabio on the cover, would never have set foot in a mega-c...

From Silk Purses to Sows’ Ears

Photo via Freeimages.com Moviegoers whose taste in cinema consists entirely of keeping up with the Joneses, or if they’re confident in their ignorance, being the Joneses - the middlebrow, the ...

Cliche, the Literary Default

Original Photo by Gerhard Lipold As writers, we’re constantly told to avoid the cliché. MFA programs in particular indoctrinate an almost Pavlovian shock response against it; workshops in...

A Recap Of... The Wicked Universe

Out of Oz marks Gregory Maguire’s fourth and final book in the series beginning with his brilliant, beloved Wicked. Maguire’s Wicked universe is richly complex, politically contentious, and fille...

Learning | Free Lesson — LitReactor | 2024-05

Try Reedsy's novel writing masterclass — 100% free

Sign up for a free video lesson and learn how to make readers care about your main character.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.