Regular readers of this column are well aware that digital books (eBooks) are making tremendous inroads in the publishing industry. With the purchase of millions of e-readers, along with smart phones, tablets and other digital devices, the market for eBooks has exploded. Several companies including Amazon and Barnes & Noble have introduced dedicated readers such as the Kindle and the Nook that allow the user to carry an entire library of books and magazines in a lightweight, thin electronic device. Many schools and colleges across the globe are now arranging for textbooks to be provided to students via a reader, rather than as the traditional paper based books.
There are both cost and environmental advantages to utilizing eBooks rather than the paper books. Supposedly, millions of trees are now saved annually because they are not felled to make the paper used in the books, while massive amounts of diesel fuel is not burned because thousands of tons of books no longer have to be shipped. With an e-reader, rather than the proverbial “ton of books,” our children no longer have to suffer back and other orthopedic issues due to an overweight backpack, but instead carry a digital reader that weighs mere ounces. Casual readers and academics can carry their entire personal libraries on a reader that weighs only ounces, yet may easily have a display comparable to that of their favorite paper books.
As our digital technology expands at an incredible rate, more and more devices can display eBooks from a variety of sources. The major e-reader manufacturers have also released free “apps” (applications) that can run on almost all digital devices, such as computers (desktop or laptop), smart phones and tablets, including those running iOS (Apple), Android, Windows, MAC, Windows Phone and Blackberry.
While there are many types and formats of eBooks distributed, one of the most popular is Amazon’s Kindle format. While Amazon produces and sells the very popular Kindle devices, it also distributes an unimaginable assortment and number of books and magazines in Kindle format. Amazon also makes available for free and to anyone Kindle apps that can run on virtually any modern computer, smart phone or tablet, regardless of operating system. Amazon obviously has a pecuniary interest in getting the widest possible dissemination and distribution of its commercial Kindle devices and free Kindle apps in order to sell more of its Kindle formatted books and magazines.
Amazon has millions of book and magazine titles available for Kindle, most available in digital format for significantly less than the paper equivalents. In many cases, the Kindle digital format is even less expensive than many of the used books listed on Amazon. In order to expand the distribution and popularity of the Kindle format, Amazon has made available to Kindle users, both those that use a dedicated reader or an app based device, a large number of free titles, as well as a very large “lending library” of current and popular titles to its “Prime” members. Many of the free titles offered by Amazon had been older editions of books whose copyrights had expired and are now in the public domain.
There are several ways to locate the free books and other printed materials available on Amazon for the Kindle devices and apps. I opened the Amazon.com Web page and did a simple search for “free kindle books,” which displayed a pull-down menu that provided the appropriate links to what I was looking for. As I type this, Amazon is offering 54,472 free books for the Kindle. While most of these titles are totally free, there are many others that are listed as free to borrow by Amazon Prime members (normally $79 per year), but are for sale to non-members. It must be stated that the listings of free Kindle books are somewhat dynamic, in that some of the titles are only free for a limited time, while other titles are likely to remain free of charge. It is likewise also important to note that titles are constantly being added to these free listings while others are deleted. Unless you are desiring a specific title, this is a trivial impediment as at any given time, there are over 50,000 free titles available.
Upon opening the listing of free Kindle eBooks, the display defaulted to the “New and Popular” listing and displayed “Les Misérables” (English language) by Victor Hugo, The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Ryan, The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (with Cross-References), “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens, “The Ugly Duckling” (Illustrated) by Hans Christian Andersen, and thousands of other titles. On the left margin of the Amazon Web page is a directory of approximately 30 genres or categories of free Kindle books, making the menu method of finding titles of interest somewhat easy. Upon clicking on many of the listed genres, a sub-menu opens listing topics under that particular genre, making locating desired texts still easier. For example, clicking on the “History” topic, which includes more than 3,600 titles, opens a sub-menu of over a dozen categories.
One especially interesting free Kindle eBook that appeared among the most popular downloads is “Kindle Buffet: Find and download the best free books, magazines and newspapers for your Kindle, iPhone, iPad or Android [Kindle Edition],” by Steve Weber. “Kindle Buffet,” according to the review on Amazon, “ ... will introduce you to KindleBuffet.com, a website and newsletter founded by author Steve Weber to showcase the best Kindle books currently offered free — plus a multitude of other avenues toward great free content.” While free to download in Kindle format, a paperback version sells on Amazon for $5.95. This title is also a guide to the website KindleBuffet.com, which provides frequent updates to the availability of free Kindle content, as well as a directory of free content broken down into 18 categories or subjects (www.weberbooks.com/kindle/free-nonfiction-bestsellers ).
Another website, Freebook Sifter (freebooksifter.com), currently has a compiled list of over 36,000 free Kindle titles in over a dozen languages. I selected English as my chosen language, and Freebook Sifter reduced its displayed selections to 26,244 books published in English. Freebook Sifter offers a menu of 26 categories of free Kindle books; when clicked, the default display is based on the number of ratings for each title, followed by the readers’ ratings for each title. Clicking on a title displayed on the Freebook Sifter website takes the user directly to the Amazon Web site where that free title can be accessed.
With over 50,000 free books available in Kindle format that can be displayed on almost any type of computer, smart phone, or tablet, as well as on an Amazon Kindle device, there is enough free content available to satiate any casual or devoted reader.
Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.