Technology

5 Ways to Borrow and Read More Free E-Books

Lending and borrowing digital reads can be tricky, but the money you save makes parsing the online landscape worthwhile.

E-reading is most popular among young booklovers. According to the Pew Research Center, 34% of 18- to 29-year-old readers consumed a digital book in 2011, matching the percentage of 30- to 49-year olds and beating the older age groups. Unfortunately, the go-to money-saver for bibliophiles everywhere — borrowing instead of buying your books — proves tricky in the Internet age. E-books are tougher to lend and borrow than their musty paper counterparts, and e-sharing comes with many strings attached. Still, you don't have to buy every book on your digital reading list. Here are five ways to make the most of what's available:

1. Plan your shares carefully.

Users of Amazon's Kindle reader or Barnes and Noble's Nook reader can share only select books. (Publishers choose which books can be shared; you can find whether a book is lendable on its product page of each site.) And lenders need to pick their borrowers judiciously. With both platforms, a loaned book can never be lent again.

Your designated borrowers should be prepared to receive and read your loaned e-books. They must have the appropriate device — either the Kindle or Nook, or their free apps for a smart phone or tablet. And Amazon and Barnes and Noble allow you just seven days to accept a loan and 14 days to finish reading. During that time, the book is unreadable on the lender's device.

Amazon Prime subscribers can also borrow one book per month for free from a selection of 400,000 reads. Unfortunately, Mac heads can't share books bought in the iBooks store.

2. Connect with book-swapping strangers online.

Readers can join free lending networks to expand their digital book options exponentially. You'll still have to abide by Kindle's and Nook's strict sharing policies, but the sheer number of people lending out books through these sites gives you a better shot of snagging a free read than simply perusing the digital shelves of your close friends. For example, eBookFling has nearly 110,000 users and is free if you lend to strangers on the network as much as you borrow. Each time you lend a book, you earn one credit. And each time you borrow a book, it'll cost you one credit — or $2.99, if you have no credits to cash in.

Other lending networks, including Lendle, The Book Elf and BookLending, are completely free to use.

3. Search for open formats.

Some publishers are making it easier to lend good reads by selling books in open formats — such as EPUB, the world's most popular open format — which don't restrict your ability to share. The files work across most devices, and you can privately distribute books that you buy and own however you'd like.

The number of publishers using this format is limited. Muggles can buy the entire Harry Potter series as open EPUB files at Pottermore.com. Publishers such as Tor, Forge and Baene EBooks, which focus on the science fiction, fantasy and mystery genres, also offer EPUB files.

4. Check out your public library.

Don't forget that public libraries lend e-books, too. For example, 16,000 libraries across the country offer e-books using the popular service OverDrive. But some publishers don't allow libraries to lend their titles, so your options will be limited, especially for new releases. Head to your library's Web site and look for its e-book page to see all the titles that are available.

At libraries, bookworms can place e-books on hold as well as borrow multiple e-books. Policies vary from city to city. Washington, D.C., for example, lets you place a hold on up to 25 e-books at once, and you can borrow up to ten e-books at a time. In Chicago, you can place holds on three titles and borrow up to six e-books at a time. Lending periods vary from one week to three weeks, depending on your library and title of choice. Don't forget that you'll need a library card, too.

5. Take advantage of freebies.

Public libraries aren't the only place to get freebies. You'll find vast libraries of older titles no longer under copyright via Project Gutenburg and Google Play, for example. Most conventional online book sellers, such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble, also have a wide array of free e-books.

Some of the most popular free books in Google Play, for example, include H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, Kate Chopin's The Awakening and Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species. And the bard himself accommodates "where sadly the poor wretch comes reading," as the Queen says upon seeing Hamlet. So Shakespeare lovers can rejoice. Bookish wit and all.

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