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6 Best Sites for Free eTextbooks


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One of the most exciting back-to-school rituals is to head to your university’s bookstore, peruse the stationery and check off everything on your required reading list, all while anticipating the fresh start of a new semester. But you’d be forgiven if your excitement wears off once you stack your books at the register and find out your grand total. For years, paying costly textbook prices has served as a disheartening rite of passage for college students across the country. As plenty of students can attest, being required to spend a couple hundred dollars on a book you’ll use for precisely one semester isn’t the lasting memory you want to make of your time in college — or the lasting impact you want to make on your wallet.

Fortunately, technology has led to the development of eTextbooks — digital copies of books that you can access right from your phone, tablet or computer. In some cases, you may even be able to cut the cost entirely and obtain eTextbooks for free. To help you manage your college budget even better, we’ve rounded up some of the top free eTextbook providers where you can start your search for next semester’s reading material.

The Benefits of eTextbooks

For decades, the textbook industry made its earnings by selling books that students had essentially no choice but to buy, no matter the cost, because they were required reading. Ultimately, however, these companies’ main competition became the used textbook market. Students realized they could resell their old books to recoup some of their initial investment, and incoming students were happy to save extra money by purchasing gently used — and subsequently discounted — textbooks over new editions.

The rise of eTextbooks — electronic versions of books you can read from a digital device — has served as a great compromise for everybody. It decreases printers’ overhead while giving college students a more affordable option for obtaining their required class reading. Additionally, as anyone who’s ever lugged 20 pounds of books around campus can tell you, eTextbooks are much lighter, accessible from most devices and friendlier for the environment.

While it may not always be possible to find free eTextbooks for every course, the odds you can are better than ever before. Let’s look into some of the best places to search. 

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Free Classic Literature eBooks

You’re almost certainly in luck if you’re looking for books for a class that requires you to get your hands on copies of classic literature. Most classics are now freely available for both students and casual readers alike at sites like Project Gutenberg, where you’ll find over 60,000 free eBooks. 

Cost-wise, one of the perks of classic literature is that it tends to include a wide array of books whose copyrights have expired. Consequently, there are no legal issues with making these titles available for free. Project Gutenberg lets you browse or search by author, title, subject and other filters. Simply select the book you need, and you can read it online or download a copy to check out at your convenience.  

In the unlikely event you don’t find what you’re looking for, here are some other great sites you can try: 

OpenStax

If you’re a professor looking for a way to win the instant appreciation of your students, consider using one of the free eTextbooks from Rice University’s OpenStax collection. OpenStax is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit charitable corporation that publishes openly licensed textbooks your students can access for no cost. 

Teachers can also enjoy their own perks when they use OpenStax, as the organization integrates plenty of free instructor resources. Most of the courses come with a free collection of PowerPoint guides, videos, study guide questions and answers, and more.

OpenStax also makes it easy to incorporate its courseware into your digital learning center with Canvas and D2L course cartridges or a Blackboard course package. Check out the wide range of courses, complete with Spanish language options. 

Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB)

DOAB is a community-driven project that offers free access to over 50,000 academic peer-reviewed books. DOAB has found a powerful ally in SCOSS, the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services, which has deemed the project essential infrastructure for working towards a sustainable, open-source educational solution. 

Simply head to the website to check out DOAB’s massive selection of offerings. You can jump straight to a direct search or browse by subject, author, title, language or publisher. Once you find the book you need, just click “download” to read it. There’s even an “export citation” button that generates a citation to Endnote or RefWorks if you want to use it as a reference in a paper. 

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InTechOpen

If you’re on the hunt for science, medicine or technology eTextbooks, then InTechOpen may be your best bet. The site currently offers 5,700 free peer-reviewed eBooks, and its operators are well aware of the ever-evolving nature of scientific research fields. That’s why InTechOpen is constantly updating its collection with new eBooks covering the latest developments.

For the same reason, the site always accepts new submissions for publication. If you’re an instructor, researcher or grad student, it’s a great place to get your work in front of the scientific community. There’s even a selection of books open for individual chapter submissions.

To access the InTechOpen Book Series, simply use the search box at the top of the page or browse by subject, popularity, latest releases and other filters. 

Open Textbook Library

Open Textbook Library is another excellent resource to check out for high-quality textbooks currently available under a Creative Commons license. The site tends to be refreshingly picky about which books it includes and stipulates that each must actually be used at multiple higher education institutions, scholarly societies or professional organizations.

Open Textbook Library currently offers over 1,000 selections, many of which have been reviewed by instructors who have used them in their courses. Browse a wide range of topics and subtopics, or search for specific books to download. 

MERLOT

No, not the wine. In this instance, MERLOT stands for Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching. Created by California State University, MERLOT is sort of like Google for free eTextbooks and learning tools. Geared towards students, educators and researchers alike, the online library has pulled together searchable links to over 98,000 free educational resources from various sources. 

Since MERLOT is so massive, it’s not a bad idea to create a free account to build your own collections, leave comments and even contribute your own resources. MERLOT’s strength lies in the fact that its search results are about as thorough as it gets.

But, it’s important to keep in mind that it doesn’t limit results to eTextbooks alone. While you’ll find plenty of free eBooks, a casual browse will also yield hundreds of other results from case studies, quizzes, and presentations — even entire free online courses. If you’re looking for free eTextbooks specifically, it’s best to check the Open (Access) Textbook box in the advanced search tab to help narrow things down. 

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