free library in a pocket

If you’ve been wondering where in Australia one can obtain eBooks, wonder no more.

The fabulous new world of the web has spread its tentacles across the globe making content accessible to more than 2 billion broadband users and 5 billion mobile subscribers.

Anything with a screen that connects to the internet is an eReader, including smartphones and tablets, as well as can’t-take-to-bed computers.  So if you’re one of the users connected to the Internet you’re in position to dip into the world of free eBooks anywhere, anytime.

Although your smartphone may not need a specific eReader – you can use your Android phone, Blackberry or iPhone to read eBooks on the go – in my (not so) humble opinion, the smartphone screen is way too small for pleasure reading; A desktop will tie you to a room with a desk; Most laptops are too cumbersome and a bit on the heavy side to haul around; So that leaves specialised tablets as the eReaders of choice.

As small as just one single paper printed pocketbook, eBook readers can store in excess of 1,000 titles.

But before you join the rEvolution you might like to consider six of the biggest reader names in eBook-dom:

Amazon Kindle

Apple iPad

Barnes & Noble Nook-book

BeBook Neo


Sony Digital Reader

In addition, the market offers a plethora of Android based Tablets.  The good news for those is that there are about 1,600 readers in the Android app catalog, many of them free.

If you’re keen for more detailed info on various eReaders, Wikipedia has a very informative e-Reader comparison table (current as at May 2011), as does Top Ten Reviews, FindTheBest and Choice, the Australian “people’s watchdog”.

Something to bear in mind when shopping for an eReader is that although ePUB is a free and open eBook format by IDPF, it is not globally adopted as a standard by eReader manufacturers.

This may not seem like an issue at first, but if you want to syndicated your library between your mobile, tablet and computer devices, it can get a bit confusing.  If you’re not savvy with things technical, it can all get complicated when you start finding books in eBook formats your eReader is not equipped to deal with.

Open source eBook management utility apps to the rescue.

With a free and open source eBook library management application like Calibre, you can organize, save and manage eBooks using an array of formats.  It also supports eBook syncing with a variety of popular eBook readers. The other great thing about this freebie is that it is intended for the three main operating systems, LinuxMac OS X and Windows.

Another neat freeware utility program for reading eBooks, digital newspapers and other digital publications, is LexCycle’s Stanza Desktop.  It assists in converting your books from various formats into ePUB, and in transferring your books to Stanza iPhone/iPod Touch.  (Note of interest: The company LexCycle is owned by (manufacturer/creator of the Amazon Kindle).)

Stanza Desktop currently supports reading books in a variety of formats, including: EPUBeReaderMS LITAmazon KindleMobipocket, and PalmDoc, as well as general document formats: HTMLPDFMS Word, and Rich Text Format.

Note that books in protected formats (such as Kindle books, books protected with Adobe DRM, and protected Mobipocket books) cannot currently be read using Stanza Desktop.

Stanza Desktop does not currently contain any library management features or the ability to download books directly from the internet. For library management and conversion-related features, you may be interested in looking at the free Calibre project, which also includes the ability to transfer books to Stanza iPhone.

Stanza Desktop is currently in beta for Windows and Macintosh, both of which are available for download.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get shopping.


There are more than 12 million eBook titles available online as I type this. Book Search alone, an initiative headed by Google, has scanned more than 10 million texts since 2004. The best news is that in most instances, eBooks are much cheaper than printed books (not to mention the paper they save), and the older ones are completely free.

Before we start, in the eBooks world ‘books’ tends to be used to also mean magazines and newspapers, which are all significant parts of the eBook revolution.

If you’re after a particular title, its definitely worth shopping around.  Of course, if you’re hunting down an old classics, scroll down to the list of free eBook providers. If the title was published more than 70 years ago, you’re probably in luck.


Thanks to millions of Kindle owners (Kindle is the #1 bestseller on Amazon), Amazon eBook sales surpassed sales of paperback books for the first time in the last quarter of 2010.

Content from Amazon and some other content providers is primarily encoded in Amazon’s proprietary Kindle format (AZW), meaning your Kindle won’t be able to read books purchased elsewhere in other file formats.  However, it is possible to load content in various formats from a computer by simply transferring it to the Kindle via USB (for free) or by emailing it to a registered email address provided by Amazon (via 3G or Wi-Fi).  The email service can convert a number of document formats to Amazon’s AZW format and then transmit the result to the associated Kindle over their Whispernet.

Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing allows authors and publishers to independently publish their books directly to Kindle and Kindle Apps worldwide – Very neat if you’re in the writing business.

The Kindle app is available for free download for a number of eReading devices.

File format is Amazon’s own, AZW.

Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble’s own Nook book is based on the Android platform.

The Nook provides a “LendMe” feature, allowing users to share some books with other people, depending on licensing by the book’s publisher. The buyer is permitted to share a book once with one other user for up to two weeks. Users can also share their books with others who are using Barnes & Noble’s reader application software for AndroidBlackBerryiPadiPhoneiPod TouchMac OS X, and Windows and others.

Another very neat feature of the Nook system is that it recognises physical Barnes & Noble stores so customers using the Nook in a store receive access to special content and offers while the device is connected to the B&N’s Wi-Fi. And to top it, most eBooks in the catalogue can be read for up to an hour while connected to the store’s Wi-Fi network.

Supported ebook file-formats include:  eReaderPDBEPUBAdobe ADEPT DRM

Nook also supports audiobook formats, including MP3 and Ogg Vorbis.

The Book Depository

The Book Depository is a UK based business delivering worldwide.

Through their Dodo Press imprint, The Book depository is on a quest to make available as many of the 30 million titles ever printed in the English language.  To date the Dodo Press imprint has re-published over fifteen thousand out of print or difficult to find titles.

The Book depository makes over 200, 000 titles available for eReaders, 11,000 of which are free.

Just about all eReaders are supported via ePub, PDF and MS file formats.


Although Borders physical stores are expected to cease business operations by September 2011, the Australian online store is now run by Pearson Australia Group.

Their eBook store was changed in July 2011 to Kobo eReader apps allowing users to transfer their Borders eBooks to their Kobo library.

Supported file formatsare: ePub, desktop, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android.

Kobo Books

The original Kobo was targeted to serve as a rival to the Amazon Kindle.  It is still the best priced of the top ten eReaders.

The new ‘Touch’ edition was designed by readers for readers and offers an expandable storage for up to 30,000 books, “making it a reading lover’s dream”.

eBooks as well as newspapers and magazines can be downloaded directly from the Kobo website as well as from the Australian Borders eBook store. And it accepts old Border eBooks into its library.

You can sync Kobo with your Android-enabled phone, iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Free Kobo eReader apps for the PC or Mac desktop, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android are available to read eBooks without the need for a Kobo eReader.

[If, like me, you ever wondered about the name, its an anagram of – wait for it! – ‘BOOK’.]

EPUB, PDF and MOBI are the supported file formats


A fresh alternative to big-name stores that offers free publishing and distribution for independent writers and publishers.

The generous try-before-you-buy option allows the reader to sample up to half of the book (in many cases) before they commit to a purchase.

Smashwords offers multi-format, DRM-free ebooks readable on any e-reading device (supported formats: ePub, HTML, JavaScript, LRF, MOBI, PDB, PDF, RB, RTF, TXT)

And the best for last:-


In Australia, any work that was published after the death of the author will be out of copyright 70 years after the year of first publication, with some exceptions.  Simply put, these works are copyright-free and are therefore in the public domain available for anyone to use them in any way and for any purpose.

In addition to public domain works, the internet is rife with works available through the Creative Commons as well as works by emerging authors or those tapping into the power of referral marketing.

In August 2009 Google launched a program to enable rightsholders to make their Creative Commons-licensed books available for the public to download, use, remix, and share via Google Books.

For you reading pleasure, here is a sampling of websites offering free eBooks (I deliberately left out those that require registration):

Baen Free Library

Participating authors place free electronic versions of their works here, usually the first novel or novels in an ongoing series. More than forty writers are represented, essentially in the Science Fiction/Fantasy genres. You can either read them online, or download zipped file versions in HTML, Microsoft Reader, Palm/Mobipocket, Rocket/Ebookwise or RTF formats. Registration is requested.

File formats: ePub, LIT, LRF, MOBI, RB, RTF


Calibre offers DRM free eBooks. It is also a free and open source eBook library management application with a cornucopia of features developed by users of eBooks for users of eBooks.

In their own words, “Every eBook fits every device.”


Feedbooks distributes over 3,000,000 free and non-free books every month to smartphones, tablets and eReaders.

File formats: ePub, MOBI, PDF

Project Gutenberg Australia

The books here are in the ‘public domain’ in Australia and all have been prepared by volunteers.

Because of differences between Australian and United States (where Project Gutenberg is based) copyright law, Project Gutenberg Australia contains many works not available at Project Gutenberg, including classics by Margaret Mitchell, George OrwellH. P. LovecraftEdgar WallaceS. S. Van Dine and others.

Their free eBooks or eTexts may be read on a computer using a simple text editor or viewer as the file formats used are HTML and TXT.  Project Gutenberg US has ePUB books.

Sacred Text Archive

The largest freely available archive of online books about religion, mythology, folklore and the esoteric on the Internet. The site is dedicated to religious tolerance and scholarship, and has the largest readership of any similar site on the web.

File formats: HTNL and TXT


Scribd is a Web 2.0 based document-sharing website which allows any user to post documents of various formats, and embed them into a web page using its iPaper format placing millions of documents and books at your fingertips! “Read, print, download, and send them to your mobile devices instantly. Or upload your PDF, Word, and PowerPoint docs to share them with the world’s largest community of readers.”

The content includes samples from established authors as well as works by emerging writers.

File formats: PDF, TXT

And if that didn’t quite do it for you, check these out:

  • Free e-Books lists a number of various free eBook websites by category.
  • The Digital Book Index is “A Union catalog(ue) of Electronic books, texts and documents” providing links to more than 148,000 full-text digital books and other documents, from more than 1,800 commercial and non-commercial publishers, universities and private sites.
  • Open Culture is your guide to free educational media such as online courses, audio books, textbooks, eBooks, language lessons, movies and other enriching content.

where it all began


  • Project Gutenberg’s list of links to other sites related to literature and eBooks.
  • The World Digital Library (WDL) project’s has an incredible aim to make available on the Internet, free of charge and in multilingual format, significant primary materials from countries and cultures around the world.
  • And if you’re still hanging for more things eBook, have a look at the Wikibooks project – a Wiki hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation for the creation of free content textbooks and annotated texts that anyone can edit.
  • For a slightly different slant on eReading, check out Skip Ferderber‘s Weekend Tech blog.