No, this is not spam--although it's not a free iPad, either. But it is an invitation to join the ebook revolution at zero cost, using your existing electronic equipment. Free software programs by reputable providers are available to turn your home computer, laptop, netbook or smartphone into an ebook reader, and they work beautifully. In today's post I'll provide links to web pages where you can download the software and also offer some tips on finding free or low-cost ebooks.
Microsoft Reader was the first free ebook reader I noticed, but you'll find Adobe Digital Editions, Amazon's Kindle software, and Barnes and Noble's Nook software offer a more modern and user-friendly look and feel. Any ebooks you purchase for viewing in these programs should be transferable to a stand-alone ebook reader if you later buy or receive one as a gift, although you'll have to make a decision between the incompatible file formats used by the most popular readers. Amazon uses a proprietary .mobi file format for the Kindle, the most popular e-reader, but most others use the .epub format (including Nook, Ipad, Sony, and Kobo, among others).
To avoid investing time or money in ebooks you won't ultimately be able to transfer to an e-reader, consider taking a few minutes to evaluate whether you're likely to prefer the Kindle or Nook experience before downloading a library of ebooks. Consumer Reports recommends both the Kindle and the Nook, but there are advantages and disadvantages to each. So much of this choice is personal, and I suggest you read some reviews and test the readers at the store before deciding, but for me the deciding factors were (a) the Nook's compatibility with free library rentals, (b) the sheer beauty of the Nook Color, and (c) some residual loyalty to Barnes & Noble, which was very supportive of my book tour in 2000. At $249, the Nook Color is about $100 more expensive than each brand's low-cost readers, but it's got an Android touch screen that I found extremely easy to use, and with an impending firmware update it will have access to an app store. I was not nearly as impressed with the regular Nook and have not test-driven a Kindle.
Whichever file format choice you make, free software is available for your PC, Mac, Ipad, or smartphone. Adobe's offering, Digital Editions, is limited to PC and Mac computers, but may be needed if you're interested in borrowing ebooks from your local library (even if you own an ebook reader). Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook software are available across all platforms. If these links change, just search the Amazon store for "Kindle for PC" or the Barnes & Noble site for "free Nook apps."
New ebook releases by popular authors are generally available in the $8 to $12 range, significantly less expensive than hardcover editions. But ebooks offer mch more. Shopping from your own home, you can sample several chapters of a book for free before making a purchase decision. You can also find many books and short stories offered by authors and independent publishers for free or in the $1 to $3 range at major ebookstores and at Smashwords, which sells ebooks in multiple formats (you can download as many formats as you want for the same price). As I've noted in a prior post, the quality of these independent works varies widely, but the ability to sample for free and sort by customer rankings and download frequency offers some hope of exposing you to great reading material at a reasonable cost. Many previously published midlist authors are exploring independent publishing in these Wild, Wild West days of the revolution, and there's even something to be said for surfing your favorite genre for an undiscovered talent.
Also, check if your local library has started to offer ebooks yet. In the Atlanta area, the Atlanta-Fulton County Public Library has an ebook collection, but the Dekalb County Public Library does not. You can get a nonresident library card at the Atlanta library for $40 per year.
Another fantastic source for free ebook classics is Project Gutenberg, which has digitized works for which the U.S. copyright has expired. You can spend hours browsing or focus on top 100 lists to quickly find popular titles. While most 20th century works are not yet available, you can download historical treatises (Aristotle, Machiavelli, Locke, Rousseau, Voltaire, Nietzsche, Marx) and classic fiction (Austen, Dickens, Melville, Swift, Twain, Wells). I've got enough reading material to last me beyond 2015!
To welcome you personally into the ebook revolution, I'm offering readers of this blog a free digital copy of my first novel, THE JINX (regulary $2.99). Use coupon code NG74R by April 30th to download your copy in epub and/or mobi format at www.smashwords.com. It will look great in your new ebook software!