Coronavirus: Here’s where to find free ebooks and audiobooks while self-isolating


Mary Cadden

March 28, 2020

Coronavirus has changed the landscape for book lovers, particularly book lovers on a budget. Sure, many bookstores are offering curbside service and online stores have plenty of titles on sale, but the costs can add up for families, many of whom are feeling a financial pinch during this crisis.

Thankfully, there are plenty of options to access free ebooks and audiobooks from retailers, local libraries, and other sites. And it appears a lot of people are going this route. According to David Burleigh, a spokesman for the free digital content service OverDrive, “it has never been a busier time for accessing free library ebooks,” citing that they have “seen unprecedented demand and setting records for Libby app installs, checkout and new users in the last few weeks.”

Here are options for self-isolating readers who prefer to borrow and not buy:

Online retailers

Some retailers such as Google Books, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books and Audible are offering a selection of free ebooks if you already have accounts; no memberships are required. But some retailers do require credit card information in order to open an account. Just search for “free books” at each site. The selection is restricted – you won’t find current best-sellers, but it doesn’t hurt to try out a new author or genre.


Libraries offer online access even when their physical locations are closed. Some libraries are even giving access to their wifi in their parking lots. Applications such as Libby, by OverDrive, are used by libraries for their digital collections of ebooks and audiobooks. The selection of titles is comprehensive, including classics, best-sellers and everything in between. The only drawback is there may be a waiting list for some of the titles, depending on their popularity.   

Don’t have a library card? That’s okay. Through Libby and OverDrive, many libraries are adopting instant digital cards that provide instant access based on your phone number. Currently, about 80 library systems in the U.S. now offer this feature.

Online collections

There are several sites that offer free access to thousands of titles, such as Project Gutenberg, Open Library, ManyBooks, and, in the case of audiobooks, LibriVox. Some require you to create an account, but a credit card is not required. The titles available on these free public sites tend to be older, primarily because the titles they carry are mostly already in the public domain and no longer have copyrights. But as every book worm can tell you, every book is new if you have not read it yet.


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