Although ebooks are becoming more and more popular (and will eventually overtake print books as the default standard publishing format - sorry, ebook-haters, facts is facts), ebook discussions often center on the expense of ebooks and ereaders.
In my opinion, these complaints are largely inaccurate and/or short-sighted. It's true that today, ereaders are still fairly expensive toys. However, prices have been dropping over the last few years the way most consumer electronics gadgets do, and it won't be long before they are cheap commodities like MP3 players and wristwatches, and/or integrated into the other gadgets that are also becoming standard consumer gadgets. Reading an ebook on a smartphone or iPad is still not quite an ideal reading experience, but the technology is only getting better.
For someone who normally buys a lot of books, an ereader even today rapidly pays for itself if you are thrifty.
"But," I hear you cry, "ebooks aren't cheap! Sometimes they are even more expensive than the print edition!"
This is actually only true in a small number of cases. Most ebooks I've seen released over the past few years are published at or below the cost of the new hardcover, and when the book is released in paperback, the ebook drops in price accordingly. Now, you can argue that they should still be a lot cheaper, but the ebook market is still in flux. With publisher mergers and the growth of small, independent ebook publishers, I believe new price points will stabilize in the next few years. There is of course a lot of discussion about this in the industry, with a great deal of fear over what higher or lower price points will mean for authors and publishers. The rise of $0.99 Kindle books has meant good things for some folks, bad things for others.
How to fill up your ereader for free
But anyway, let's talk about where to get your free ebooks. I am going to post some resources I have collected here, but feel free to add more in comments.
I will edit this post to add more links that I deem worthwhile.
Now, will this get you new releases that are still in hardcover? For the most part, no. If you want new books, you usually have to pay for them. But there is a lifetime of reading available to you that's already been published.
No pirating sites!
I am talking about legal free ebooks here. I will nuke any comments that point towards "book sharing" sites. This isn't the SBD for debating ebook piracy.
No self-published books
I am also, for the most part, not interested in self-published books or sites like FictionPress and Scribd. Yeah, you can find some stuff that is worth reading there, just like you can on fan fiction sites, but this post is for people who want to find real, edited, professionally published books.
Sign up with publishers
Many publishers send out monthly emails with book deals for people who sign up for their email lists. Sometimes they offer free ebooks, sometimes they will put the first book in a series up for sale for $0.99, sometimes they bundle several books together for a low price, but if there is a particular publisher you like, it's worthwhile to join their mailing list. I've picked up quite a few cheap reads this way.
Likewise, many smaller ebook retailers, for example: Kobo Books, Fictionwise, diesel eBook store, and Book View Cafe, frequently send their customers special offers, coupons, etc.
Everyone has heard of Project Gutenberg, I assume. Yes, it's limited to works in the public domain. It's a good source for all the old classics, but there are fair number of relatively recent works that have fallen out of copyright. For example, H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy
Project Gutenberg Australia has some titles that the main Gutenberg site does not, because of different copyright laws in Australia. Gone with the Wind and the collected stories of H.P. Lovecraft, for example, are still protected by copyright in the U.S., thanks to the Copyright Term Extension Act (aka The Mickey Mouse Protection Act), but have entered the public domain in Australia.
(Yes, this means that technically, if you download these from the U.S., you are violating U.S. copyright law. Fuck you, Sonny Bono.)
It should be noted regarding works translated into English from other languages that while the original (for example, Notre-Dame de Paris) may be in the public domain, a given translation may not be. So translated literary works available on Gutenberg are usually much older translations.
Other public domain sources
The Internet Archive.
Your friendly neighborhood local library
More and more libraries are making loaned ebooks available (including eAudio downloads). Usually this works by giving the downloaded ebook an "expiration date" after which it is no longer readable, in order to simulate the limited check-out of a physical book.
The technology is still a little emergent here, as are accommodations between libraries and publishers. I expect the system of ebook "loans" will be quite different in the future, but anyone who is a member of library that has ebook downloads has this option available to them as well.
Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Baen Free Library makes available many of Baen's science fiction and fantasy novels for free download. Mostly they are first books in a series, and somewhat older titles, but all of Baen's big-name authors can be found here.
Arc Manor's Phoenix Pick. Arc Manor is a small SF publisher with a lot of new and reprinted SF books available for low prices. If you sign up for their email list, you get the free monthly ebook (usually a lesser-known but still worthy title).
Night Shade Books Ebook Giveaway. This was announced as a Thanksgiving giveaway, so I don't know if it will remain up permanently, but you can get Agatha H and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Folio, The Emperor's Knife, by Mazarkis Williams, and Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht for free while they're available.
Authors who have made their books available for free
Cory Doctorow is one of the most zealous advocates for free downloads, and you can find all of his novels (and most of his non-fiction) available for free at his site. You can also find his books on ManyBooks.net.
John Scalzi's first novel, Agent to the Stars, has always been a free ebook.
Charles Stross has also put several of his SF novels up for free at ManyBooks.net.
Free Harlequin books.
Free Kindle books. Mostly romance, and many are self-published, but not all.
Free Nook books. Mostly romance, but not self-published.
614 Places for Free eBooks Online
Amazon Best Sellers. Again, most of the Top 100 Free list are romance and/or self-published, but there are some exceptions.
Comment below to tell me about links you think I should add to this post.
Previous Saturday Book Discussions.