The Easy Way to Get Free Books (That’s Not the Library)

updated Aug 12, 2019
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Your TBR list is about to get longer. We’ve stumbled upon yet another reason bibliophiles are totally justified in ignoring that advice about not collecting more books until you’ve read the ones you already own. 

First off, do what you want, and secondly, how can that rule still apply when there are so many books available for download in the public domain? In other words, they’re free, plus this supposedly secret cache of digital works also happens to be numbered somewhere in the millions (!). 

Now before you go scouring the collection for the latest, greatest releases, these specific books are only free to download because they’re older. That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable; it simply has to do with copyright laws. 

As Vice explains, “Prior to 1964, books had a 28-year copyright term. Extending it required authors or publishers to send in a separate form, and lots of people didn’t end up doing that.”

Subsequently, the New York Public Library took on the humongous task of converting the copyright and registration information into a searchable format, a tedious undertaking that required money and tons of time. As a result of the NYPL’s efforts, a large portion of works published between 1923 to 1964 are now available in the public domain.

For true book lovers who can’t bear to leave words lying around unread, some of these recently publicized free books are available on The Hathi Trust Digital Library. Additionally, Open Library and Duke University post links to noted classic public domain titles. And to keep daily tabs on newly released books, Vice also highlighted Secretly Public Domain, a Mastodon bot, created by blogger Leonard Richardson.

In case you’re looking for titles that don’t fit the aforementioned time frame, there are also other options for freebie book downloads, including popular sites like Goodreads, Bookbub, or Project Gutenberg, which currently offers more than 59,000 free e-books.