If you're among the millions of people who got an e-reader for Christmas and are reading more books than ever before, you'll soon notice on your credit card statement that those $9.99 books add up fast.
But other than reading free public domain classics, how can e-book readers save money without getting a monthly credit card bill in the double digits for the many more books they expect to read with their new toy? There are quite a few ways, as I discovered after some research, with some e-readers offering more ways than others to get free or discounted books.I'm already into my third book on the Kindle I got for Christmas, and I can't see ever buying another hardcover book to lug around, no matter if it's discounted by 50% or more, when an e-book is typically $5 less than the discounted hardcover.
Amazon reported that in the fist 73 days of the holiday quarter, it sold millions of its newest Kindle -- more than it did during all of 2009. Retailers had high expectations for holiday sales of e-readers, with 10.3 million expected to be in circulation by the end of the year.
So if you're among that group -- or thinking of joining -- here are some ways to save money on e-books:
Blogs, Discussion Boards
Amazon's discussion boards are a good start to finding new books or best-selling authors or new authors who offer their books for free for up to a day as a way to drive up sales on Amazon's ratings, said Elaine Bloom, an e-book expert.
"There's a lot of stuff out there that's free other than the public domain books," Bloom told WalletPop in a telephone interview.
Sometimes the books are only free for a few hours, so checking the discussions often can land you a free bestseller, said Bloom, who recently saw the latest James Patterson book offered for free for a few hours. "You have to keep looking," she said.
Eldon Sarte runs a great blog on free e-books, and also lists dirt cheap books for 89 cents or so that are interesting.
Websites such as ireaderreview.com have daily lists of free e-books, and Amazon has its own list of free bestsellers. The Sony Reader also has lists of free or bargain books.
For the Nook, Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes says that entering the term "0.00" in the search box while in the marketplace will lead to more than 150,000 free titles, which will take some sorting through, but she adds that she has found "some incredible gems among the titles."
If you didn't get to these in high school or college, they can be read on an e-reader, laptop computer or smartphone with the correct application installed. Claire Diaz Ortiz, creator of the blog SavingMoneyPlan.com and a 2010 Savings.com "DealPro," recommended these sites for free classics: Project Gutenberg, Google e-bookstore, Open Library, and LibriVox, which has free audio books that can be read on a Kindle with its voice reader.
Checking out books is free at the library, and so are e-books if your local lending library has the free software. Nook owner Ciarlo-Hayes says that her library uses Adobe Digital Editions software, offering her more than 100,000 titles for the same three-week time frame as traditional books. If your local library has current fiction and non-fiction books in e-book form, they're free and you won't have to pay $10 or so from your e-reader.
Amazon, however, locks Kindle customers into its books, and doesn't allow downloaded e-books from such services as NetLibrary, Overdrive or similar services, said Paula Laurita, a library science editor at BellaOnline.com. They're available on the Nook, iPad and other devices, but not the Kindle.
The Kindle and the Nook allow e-books to be lent once, for a two-week period, after which the owner will not be able to access the loaned title. Kindle owner and PopMatters writer Peta Jinnath Andersen points out that at the end of the two weeks the book reappears in the e-library, undamaged and pristine, which is not often the case with physical books that are loaned.
While not free, monthly newspaper subscriptions can be a lot cheaper on e-readers. Terence Burke changed his New York Times subscription from five days to seven days per week by going from printed format to his Nook, an e-Reader from Barnes & Noble. Seven-days of a print subscription would have cost him $769.56 for a year, and is $239.40 per year on the Nook at $19.95 per month.
Skip the E-reader
If you want to read on your Android phone, iPad, laptop or desktop computer, you can download programs such as Blio and buy or read free books that are stored in the cloud. You'll save money by not buying an e-reader such as the Kindle, but can still buy books on Amazon and read them elsewhere. The Kindle, and most other e-readers, provide free apps so that a book can be read seamlessly from one device to the next. You can read a few pages on your desktop computer at work, pick up at the same page on your iPhone on the subway home, and then continue reading where you left off on your iPad at home.
These items on the Kindle won't save you much money, if any, when buying e-books, but they could save users money in other ways, Kindle owner Reine Thibeault points out. The Kindle has some features under its "Experimental" tab. One opens a web browser, and since there is no monthly web connection fee, you could check a Yahoo or Gmail account for free, although navigation is clunky.
Another feature is being able to load MP3s from a computer to the Kindle. It has a text-to-speech feature that could also save you money if you sometimes bought books in both a hard and audio format.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.
How to Save on E-Books for Kindle, Nook and Other E-Readers