Tens of thousands of free books are available legally for your iPad and iPhone. In this roundup, we list the best online sources, complete with compatibility tips.
If you are willing to use your new device for reading ebooks and listening to audiobooks, you are most probably going to check out free book-reading apps and audiobook players in the App Store’s Books category, and test which one suits your needs the most.
Apple Books, the native iOS book-reading app, formerly known as “iBooks” (surprisingly, many users still use this term), is no longer preloaded on your iPad and iPhone. You have to head to the App Store and download it.
You will find lots of free book-reading apps in the Books category. Which one is the best?
The most advanced and versatile apps are offered by major digital platforms. Besides Apple, it’s Amazon Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and Google Play Books. These apps are free to use, and all you need to do is sign in with the relevant account login and password. For the Kindle app, use your Amazon credentials; the login for Google Books is the same as for Gmail.
The only problem with apps from major ebook and audiobook platforms is the lack of free content. Yes, you can find a few free titles in the Apple Books or Google Play Books, but it’s enough only to let you test the interface to decide whether this particular platform and app would be suitable.
The thing is that on the web you can find dozens of thousands of free ebooks that you can download to your iPad and iPhone. These books are available in the public domain – their intellectual property rights expired and anyone can use them without breaking the law.
Among books available in the public domain, you will find the most popular classic titles by Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Franz Kafka, Charlotte Brontë, or Arthur Conan Doyle, to name a few authors.
The latest bestsellers from J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, George R.R. Martin, Margaret Atwood, Jodi Picoult, or Neil Gaiman are not available in the public domain, so you won’t see them in the following list. Instead of pirating them, try to find out what are the prices in the ebook platform of your choice. From time to time, even the hottest bestsellers are offered at highly reduced prices, sometimes between $0.99 and $2.99, so it’s just a matter of following the deals.
Before the list, let’s briefly go through two important topics:
- How to download own books?
- What file format to choose?
How to download own books to iPad and iPhone?
There are four ways you can do it:
- Upload a file to iCloud Drive – if you have a Mac computer, download the file to the disc and move it to iCloud Drive folder in the Finder. Then, open the Files app on your iPad and tap the file to open it.
- Upload a file to the cloud app – you can do the same using the cloud service of your choice, such as Google Drive or Dropbox.
- Send a file via email – download a file to the computer, add it as an attachment and email yourself. Open the email on your iPad and tap the file to open it with the compatible app.
- Use Safari on your iPad or iPhone – some sites are working very well on mobile devices. Browse these sites directly on your iPad using Safari (or any other browser), find the book, and open it directly, without the need to switch devices.
The fifth method is using directly a book-reading app. I don’t recommend it, if you have chosen the app from a major platform. These platforms don’t make it easy to find free books because they want you to buy them.
Which ebooks are compatible with my app?
Everything depends on which app you choose to serve as an ebook reader on your iPad or iPhone.
Books from the following sites are available in different file formats, so it’s just a matter of selecting the format that is compatible with your app.
To make things simple, here is a simple rule (it works in 99% of cases): choose “mobi” format for Amazon Kindle app; choose “epub” format for any other app.
Ebook formats for iPad and iPhone
|Google Play Books||✓|
9 sites with free books for iPad and iPhone
Project Gutenberg is the top place to download free classics from the public domain. The books that are published here are then reused by many other sites – including the ones that you find later in this overview.
The site is powered by thousands of volunteers who are first to digitize books that have just entered the public domain. Dozens of new titles are being added every month. Currently, you can choose from over 60,000 free books.
You can start from exploring the catalog of the most popular ebook downloads. The world’s most loved and adored books are here: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, works by Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain’s A Tale of Two Cities, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. And it’s just the beginning!
Project Gutenberg is the longest established site with free ebooks. It was founded by Michael S. Hart, the extraordinary tech visionary who wanted to make digital books freely available to all. Back in 1971 (to be precise, on the 4th of July), he published the first ebook in the world – the electronic version of “U.S. Declaration of Independence.” It is the No.1 book in the Project Gutenberg catalog – and it’s still there: gutenberg.org/ebooks/1.
As the site is available in a mobile version, you can browse its catalog directly on your iPad. Project Gutenberg offers also a one-click download option to three cloud services: Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft’s One Drive.
Books in epub and mobi are available in two versions: with and without illustrations and pictures from original print edition. Plus, there is an option to read each book as a html file, so you can do it on your iPad or iPhone as well, if you don’t feel like downloading the file.
Popular sections to explore:
- Top 100 books – with the number of downloads for yesterday, last week, and last 30 days.
- New books – the newest additions to Project Gutenberg, sorted by the release date.
- Fiction bookshelf – you can find here adventure books, crime and detective fiction, horrors, and romance books.
- Books in foreign languages – on Project Gutenberg, you can find hundreds of books in over 50 foreign languages.
📱 Mobile site: Yes, available at m.gutenberg.org/
📕 Formats: mobi, epub, text, html
The Internet Archive is a non-profit digital library with the mission of “universal access to all knowledge.” The website hosts over 300 billion web pages, books, audio and video files.
The catalog of Books and Texts includes over 2.7 million files, out of which 1.4 million are always free, while 1.2 million are available to borrow. The front page highlights the most viewed books, giving you a hint of what other users were most interested in.
You can browse books by the year of release of the digital version, topics, collection, and language. Collections include American Libraries, Canadian Libraries, books from Project Gutenberg, titles from the Million Books Project, and books for children.
What’s important, the Internet Archive hosts a vast number of foreign-language books. There are over 20 languages with the number of published text works exceeding 1,000 each.
When you find the interesting book, you can read it right away in a browser viewer. Scroll down to see the list of download options in the right-side panel.
📱 Mobile site: Yes, online viewer works on iPhone and iPad as well
📕 Formats: mobi (called “Kindle”), epub, text, pdf, plus usually 10 more
3. Open Library
Open Library is an online platform run by the Internet Archive. It makes a vast catalog of the mother site more accessible and easier to browse.
When you go to Classic Books section, you will find all works from the Internet Archive. These ebooks are “accessible,” and it means they are free to download.
Use the search box to find the book you want to read. When you land on the book description page, you will see a list of all available digital versions, together with available download options. This feature, giving you freedom to choose from a variety of digitized print versions, is unique to the Open Library. By default, on the top of the list, you will see the most downloaded version.
You can immediately read the book by clicking or tapping the “Read” button. Choose the phone icon on the right side of the button to listen to the audio version using Read Aloud technology.
But Open Library is more than just a catalog of free classic books and texts downloaded by users. It also shows contemporary books that are free to read if you decide to borrow them. To do that, you may need to register at Open Library or find the book in your local library using WorldCat or Library Link. Each library book is marked with a “Borrow” button instead of “Read.”
📱 Mobile site: Yes, online viewer powered by the Internet Archive
📕 Formats: mobi, epub, text, pdf, daisy – availability of formats depends on the version of the book
Smashwords is the popular ebook platform that offers with the largest number of books published by independent authors from around the world. You can find here books in several languages, all are DRM-free, and many authors offer their publications for free.
Out of over 500,000 ebooks, well over 80,000 are free to download. A few thousands are usually on sale, with price cuts reaching 80%. Plus, many authors offer also their titles for the prices that readers set.
To quickly get to the list of free books, simply use the combination of the three top filter bars. For instance, here is the link to: All Books – Free – Over 100K Words.
You’ll need some time to learn how to navigate the site. Only the top slider features books that are chosen via the catalog selection. Underneath, you will find “Bestselling Books,” “Most Downloaded Books,” or ‘Highly Rated Books” – and most of these books are pay-what-you-like.
To enter the entire catalog of the free books, make sure to click on a “+” button in the top right corner of the “Featured New Releases” slider. This way, you will see a paged catalog of mostly free titles. However, only the book covers are visible.
Another way to search is picking up a favorite category and then limiting the results by “Free” selector at the top.
📱 Mobile site: Yes
📕 Formats: mobi, epub, lrf, pdf, online reader
Europeana is a popular platform with digitized artworks, books, and films from European libraries, museums, and cultural institutions. It includes almost 60 million items, out of which over 12 million are digitized texts of all kinds.
Opposite to the sites listed above, Europeana collects rare editions and other items you could only find in long-established libraries. Treat is as an aggregator of digitized collections from the most prestigious sources, such as Bodleian Libraries or Bibliothèque nationale de France.
Most books are offered in pdf format so this source is good only for iPad, and only if you use a book reading app that supports this file format.
To find the book, simply write down the term in a search box. Then, use the search filter on the left side to limit the number of results by media (select yes for “full text” field and then “pdf” for file format), providing country,
📱 Mobile site: Yes
📕 Formats: mainly pdf
ManyBooks offers free books in a clean and friendly interface. Most books are sourced from Project Gutenberg and sites that offer books with a Creative Commons license.
In total, over 50 thousand books are available for download, all with proper covers – they would look great in your book-reading app’s library view. Plus, each book is available in several file formats, a lot more than what you can find elsewhere.
There are two disadvantages to keep in mind. First, the site displays ads. Secondly, you have to sign up if you want to download the files. There is also an online reader, but sometimes you will have to wait too long until it loads the content.
📱 Mobile site: Yes, online reader available
📕 Formats: epub, mobi, and many others
This is another site that makes searching for free ebooks a bit easier. The books are shown by category right in the front page, so you can quickly get an idea how many titles are in a topic you are most interested in.
Unfortunately, the site recently started displaying ads, and it makes using it much less pleasant.
📱 Mobile site: Yes
📕 Formats: epub, mobi, and pdf
BookRix is a platform that offers books from self-published authors combined with free books from the public domain. A catalog of free downloadable ebooks is an essential part of the website. It’s easy to find and explore – on the top of a list, you will find the most popular categories, including literary fiction, fantasy, romance, thrillers, and young adult fiction.
When you enter a category, you will see books sorted by the popularity. On top, you will see free books offered by contemporary authors. Most classic titles are included in the Fiction category.
Books are only offered in epub format, so if you are using the Kindle iOS app, you won’t be able to add the files unless you convert them to mobi. Also, some self-published books are not available for download; you can only read them online in your browser. This feature works on mobile devices, as well.
📱 Mobile site: Yes, browser reader available
📕 Formats: epub
Bookboon is a company focused on providing free and paid textbooks for students and businesses.
The site offers textbooks written by professors from the world’s top universities. There are over 1,000 books that are free to download, but to do that, you have to sign up.
One thing to know is that the free books come with adverts that can take even 15% of the content of each book.
You can find on Bookboon several interesting books from the following categories: engineering, IT & programming, economics & finance, career & study advice, marketing, strategy & management, or languages.
📱 Mobile site: Yes
📕 Formats: pdf
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