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8 July 2021

Where to download free or cheap ebooks

Ebooks are typically cheaper than paper books, but if you get through a lot of ebooks on your Kindle or other devices, you'll still want to get the best prices. We'll show you how and where to get free ebooks.
Michael Passingham

Where can I buy ebooks?

Your choice of ebook stores will depend on how you read your books. If you're only starting to think of branching out from paper to digital books, it's worth bearing this in mind when choosing the device you want to read on. 

Amazon Kindle ebook reader

If you have an Amazon Kindle, you'll be limited to ebooks bought on the Amazon store. You may also be able to download PDFs, but this won't typically provide a great experience. 

Kobo ebook reader

Kobo is the Kindle's main rival. If you have a Kobo, you have a few more options because you can import licenced ebooks from third-party retailers, as well as buying ebooks directly from Kobo and borrowing ebooks from your local library.

Smartphone, tablet or computer

If you primarily read books on your smartphone, tablet or computer, your options are fairly wide and there are multiple ebook stores that will let you read on various devices.

Which stores sell ebooks?

There are five main places to buy ebooks in the UK, but how you can read their content varies significantly. We've summarised this below.

  • Amazon Kindle Read books on Kindle ebook readers, Amazon Fire devices, Android and Apple smartphones and tablets, and on the internet on your computer at read.amazon.com.
  • Kobo Read books on Kobo ebook readers, Android and Apple smartphones and tablets, and on your computer using the Windows 10 and MacOS app.
  • Google Play Books Read on Android smartphones and tablets, and on your computer via play.google.com.
  • Apple Books Read on Apple smartphones and tablets and on Mac computers.
  • Hive.co.uk Read on Kobo, iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, and Windows and Mac computers using Adobe Digital Editions.

What is the cheapest ebook store? 

If you only get through a handful of books a year, the price of an ebook probably doesn’t have a huge bearing on where you buy it from. 

However, if you’re an avid bookworm, purchasing hundreds of ebooks a year, even a small difference in price can soon add up.

We’ve taken the last five Costa Book Award winners of the 2010s and the last five UK bestsellers according to the Guardian’s annual top 100 round-up, to give you an idea of how much ebooks cost from Amazon, Kobo and the other three main ebook retailers.

Prices are correct as of August 2020. 

The cost of popular ebooks

  Amazon KindleKoboAppleGoogle PlayHive
2019 Costa winnerThe Volunteer by Jack Fairweather£2.99£2.99£2.99£2.99£2.99
2019 bestsellerPinch of Nom by Kate Allinson and Kay Featherstone£8.99£8.99£8.99£8.99Not available
2018 Costa winnerThe Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es£3.99£3.99£3.99£3.99£3.99
2018 bestsellerEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman£2.99£3.99£2.99£2.99£2.99
2017 Costa winnerInside the Wave by Helen Dunmore£5.22£5.39£5.49£4.99£5.99
2017 bestseller5 Ingredients - Quick & Easy Food by Jamie Oliver£8.49£8.49£8.49£8.49£9.99
2016 Costa winnerDays Without End by Sebastian Berry£4.68£5.59£4.99Not available£4.66

*Included with Kindle Unlimited subscription

As you can see, there isn’t a huge difference in price for most titles – in most cases only a pound or so between stores. 

Availability of titles shouldn't be a major sticking point either as most of our 10 books were available at all five stores. 

The eagle-eyed among you might note that the two cookery ebooks in our selection – 'Pinch of Nom' and '5 Ingredients - Quick & Easy Food' are pricier than the other books, and you can generally expect to pay a premium for popular recipe ebooks. That said, cookery books may not be ideal for easy reading on a small ebook reader and might be better suited for large-screen tablets or even traditional paper.

Our Best Buy ebook reader reviews will help you find an ebook reader that makes reading the pleasure that it should be, whether on the go or on the beach.

How to get free ebooks

If you're a prolific reader who's time-rich but cash poor, there are a number of ways to get hold of free ebooks, particularly if you're a lover of the classics.  

Free Kindle books The Kindle Store has around 40 classic published books available for free, including 'The Railway Children', 'The Great Gatsby', 'David Copperfield' and 'Twelfth Night'. Beyond that, you may also find some self-published works available on the Kindle Store for free, although the quality of these will vary.

Transfer files to your Kindle or Kobo You can also transfer books to your Kindle in Word Document, PDF and Mobi formats, so if you have a friend who’s writing a first novel or have been given a freebie at an event, you can probably load the content on to your Kindle. Information on how to do this can be found at Amazon’s help pages. All the above formats as well as the open standard ePub format also work on on Kobo ebook readers.

Gutenberg Project Gutenberg is a repository of 60,000 copyright-expired works from before 1924, so if you’re after a classic book you may well find it here. They’re available in formats that work on both Kindle and Kobo.

Kindle Unlimited This option isn’t strictly ‘free’, but it does allow you to access ‘over one million’ ebooks, ‘thousands’ of audiobooks and ‘selected’ magazines for a flat monthly fee of £7.99 at the time of writing. The selection of included books may be just what you’re after, although only one of the 10 books highlighted above was available on Kindle Unlimited at the time of writing, so there are likely to be some gaps in the selection.

Local libraries In the UK, your local library may use a digital book borrowing service through companies such as BorrowBox or OverDrive. OverDrive is built directly into Kobo devices and there are apps available for iPhones, iPads and Android devices as well as Amazon Fire tablets. OverDrive is available on Kindle ebook readers, but only in the United States. BorrowBox isn’t built into any ebook reader, but again has apps available for a variety of devices including Android and iOS phones and tablets.

Whether you can access BorrowBox or OverDrive depends on what system your local library uses. You will need a valid library card in order to access the digital book loans on either system, so you’ll likely need to provide proof of address when you register with them. Check your local library branch to find out what’s available.

Looking for a device that lets read books from a number of ebook stores and free sites, and browse the internet, play games and check emails too? Take a look at our pick of the best tablets