This week is apparently Book Twitter’s annual “time to talk about piracy again” rant session. Despite the efforts of many authors who took to Twitter to explain, once again, how seriously illegal downloads hurt every member of the industry and make new releases from marginalized voices less likely, many readers continue to insist that denouncing this theft discriminates against those without disposable income to spend on books. (This, despite the fact that most illegal copies are downloaded by financially comfortable young men and older American women.)
Of course, my first recommendation will always be making use of public library systems. Even if you can’t physically get to the building, many libraries now have excellent electronic media programs. I can check out and download ebooks and audiobooks from my phone even if I’m states away. I don’t have to pay to check out the dozens of books I get from my library each year, but my checkouts still help support the author and publisher.
However, not every area or country has public libraries, and some library systems are highly limited or not accessible to everyone.
There are real obstacles to access to books, especially for readers outside Europe and North America, that the reading community works hard to overcome. Projects like Open Library are working to bring free borrowing to communities without public libraries and nonprofits like the US Book Bank provide free or low-cost books to hundreds of students.
Illegal downloads, however, undercut these efforts. Many authors and publishers are trying to increase access, but publishers cannot expand into underserved areas with wider releases and translated editions when the piracy epidemic makes it financially impossible.
While we, as a community, work to remove barriers to reading, many alternatives to illegal downloads already exist. It’s easy to find ways to get books cheaply, like buying used or waiting for ebook sales, but I wanted to devote a post just to places to find books at no cost to the end user. While you’re exploring options to achieve greater access to all books, here are a couple ways to get your reading fix in the meantime:
Read from the public domain
Watch for $0 sales and other giveaways
In addition to pages of $0.99 ebook sales, Book Sends and Book Bub offer several new ebooks for free download every day. Free Booksy tracks free books from Amazon and other sources. These are only a few of the many, many sources for no-cost online reading. Free trials of services like Kindle Unlimited and Audible can help close the gap during periods of financial instability.
If you follow reading blogs and author accounts, you’ll also see release-week tours and other sponsored events that include raffles for free copies. These, of course, are completely a matter of chance, but it only takes a few seconds to throw your email address to a giveaway on a blog or GoodReads.
Read literature made to be free
Stories written for release on Wattpad or Tumblr are always free for users. Many magazines offer a number of free articles, including short stories and serialized writing. Fanfiction, of course, is almost always available for free online!
Become a reviewer
Contact the author
Sometimes the most direct method is the best.
All these options can find you millions of books, but not necessarily that one book you’d sell your soul to read. If you’re passionate about a book and know you won’t be able to afford or access it, send the author a kind message telling them so. Every time these piracy discussions come up, you’ll see authors promising that they’d like nothing better than to send a free copy to a reader who cares deeply about the book.
I’m going to end with a reminder that not all of these methods will work for everyone, and that not all of them will get you the most popular books right when they’re released. Of course they won’t. But that fact alone does not justify an act of theft that enormously harms authors and the book community.