1) Project Gutenberg

Housing a treasure trove of over 50,000 public domain books, Project Gutenberg has been running since 1971. It took its current form in the early ‘90s and, not unlike Wikipedia, is powered by a host of volunteers who proof, procure and promote its collections. You can readily access classic works of antiquity or complete works by Jane Austen, Mark Twain, Shakespeare and many more besides. Audiobooks are also available on the platform. One note of caution, however: Readers external to the US should check the copyright laws in their own countries before downloading or distributing content.

2) Internet Archive and Open Library

Internet Archive is another not-for-profit which has been on a mission to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge since its inception in 1996. They scan 1,000 books per day and anyone with an account can upload media. There are 11 million books on offer, but they are also committed to archiving web pages, audio, video, images and software programs. As with Project Gutenberg, public domain books are made available for free and a handy text-to-speech facility is included.Open Library is an Internet Archive project aiming to create a web page for every book ever published. They have close to 3 million ebooks in digital form and you can find more modern books here. Just be sure to check the ‘show only ebooks’ box when searching to bring up eligible titles and look for the ‘Read’ icon.

3) Google Books

A vast and growing collection of book and magazine content that Google has been archiving since 2004. Much of the content is only available for limited preview, but you can specify ‘full view only’ in the search settings. Again, books in the public domain are free to read and can also be downloaded as PDFs. The service is also very useful for research and building up your own digital reference library.

4) Smashwords

The best place by far to find and support ebooks from independent authors and publishers. Over 70,000 books in the catalogue are free and there is no DRM. Smashwords titles are also available through traditional ebookstores, like Kobo, but you can always read excerpts and full books in your browser via the host site. It’s founder Mark Coker is also an active contributor to the digital publishing debate and hosts an authoritative blog.

5) Blurb

A beautiful self-publishing site with beautiful books inclined toward genres where presentation counts; e.g. photography, cookbooks, children’s books and graphic novels. The objective is for authors to accrue print sales so browsers are welcome to view a lot of the content online, often in full. The viewer interface is reminiscent of ISSUU before the controversial redesign and makes for a very immersive experience.

While our top five recommendations should cover all your needs, there are also honourable mentions for Scribd, Wattpad, and Bookish for further exploration.