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How to Read on a Budget During an Apocalypse
March 19, 2020

Did I say apocalypse? I meant pandemic.

I hope everyone is staying safe and washing their hands constantly and not touching their face and practicing social distancing and not resorting to cannibalism. Yet.

With financial uncertainty looming and a lot of folks staying home, I’ve seen a few people sharing links with friends and encouraging book piracy. Hey, friends? Please don’t do that.

Most writers don’t make a ton of money from their books and no author should have to just accept that their hours and hours of hard work should mean so little to readers. If your response to that is “But I’m on a budget right now!”, it might surprise you that writers will also be on a budget right now too.

If you want writers to keep writing books, pay them for their work. This goes for all artists, not just writers. Pay them for their work.

With that being said, now is the perfect time to get back into reading, or into reading for the first time.

So many authors and bookish companies are offering up books for free (legally) or lowering the cost of their books and services right now. I’ll get into this shortly. I understand that now really is a super scary time financially and you might be yearning for a new book to read but also scared to spend money right now. I get that. But you don’t have to resort to piracy (yarr!) to get cheap and free books!



Some readers still prefer physical books and that’s totally cool. I still buy books. However, it’s definitely easier to read cheaply with ebooks and audiobooks. With libraries closed and people practicing social distancing, the only recommendation I have for readers of physical-only is:

Your Own Bookshelf

How many times have you purchased a book on a whim but never got around to reading it? I know I’m definitely guilty of this. Check out your bookshelf and you might be surprised at the treasures you find there. Or, if you live with another reader, check out their book stash and see what gems they have tucked away in their collection. Or you could even consider re-reading an old favorite.



Audible Stories

NEW! Audible just announced they are offering a free service (while schools are closed) where your kiddos can listen to stories for free. A few classics like Jane EyreFrankensteinAnne of Green Gables are also available.



Oh man. I love Audible so much. I’ve been a member since January 2014 when I used my free credit on Tina Fey’s memoir, Bossypants. New members still get their first credit (one credit = one audiobook) for free before memberships are changed to a monthly fee.

Although I do think $15 per month for Audible is worth every penny, now might not be the time to add a new subscription to your budget, you can cancel your membership after your first audiobook.

Note: it looks like American users who have Amazon Prime get two audiobooks for free to start out.



Scribd offers ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, and documents (academic papers, legal filings, and a lot of weird random stuff) for $8.99 per month. New members get a month for free but the free content library is more limited than the full library. However, when things started heating up with COVID-19, Scribd made an announcement about what content would be included.




BookBub is the king of cheap ebook promotions. All you have to do is sign up on their website, select the book genres you enjoy and a newsletter will be sent to your inbox daily with free and cheap ebooks on offer, usually between $0 and $2.99. Just try to read the ebooks you purchase before you buy more.


Other Services Similar to BookBub


Amazon, Kobo, Nook, etc.

There are always tons of free and cheap ebooks available. ALWAYS. Lots of indie authors put their books up for free to get more book reviews or to get people into their other books. Lots of traditionally published authors are using this same technique (usually with older backlist books) so you’ll regularly see big-name books for a couple of bucks. Check out the bestseller lists on your ebook retailer of choice and you’ll find a lot of these.

Amazon Prime members (US, Canada, UK and maybe other countries too, not sure) get access to Prime Reading, letting you read anything you want from their Prime Reading collection.



Your Local Library

Just because you can’t visit the library doesn’t mean you can’t borrow their digital resources. If you don’t already have a library card, it might be tricky to get one at this point so I’m hoping you already have one.


Libby or Overdrive

Overdrive is a digital resource lending service that a lot of libraries use for their ebooks and audiobooks. Overdrive is also the name of their original lending app while Libby is their newer and much cuter library lending app. I’m a huge fan of Libby. It’s really easy to navigate and browse your library’s available content, place items on hold, read ebooks, listen to audiobooks, etc.

The American version of these apps include the option to sync your borrowed ebooks to your Kindle but unfortunately this appears to be U.S.-only.

Overdrive also has Sora, an app for school libraries that younger readers may enjoy, assuming their school library uses that service.

If your local library doesn’t use Overdrive, check what service they use for their digital assets and there is probably a smartphone or tablet app available for it.



Most of Wattpad’s content is completely free, uploaded by authors who want to get feedback from readers and build a fanbase. They offer stories in multiple genres but it leans heavily towards young adult and fanfiction. I’ve personally never used it but they get millions of visits per month and lots of authors have launched successful careers from the platform, so they must be doing something right!



If you enjoy the classics and audiobooks, you gotta get your hands on LibriVox. They have a massive library of public domain audiobooks, read by volunteers. (Did someone say “Jane Austen?” Me. I did. I said, “Jane Austen.”)


Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg has been around almost as long as the Gutenberg Bible. (That’s a publishing joke for you.) They offer ebook and audiobook versions of public domain works, all for exactly zero dollars.


This is far from an exhaustive list of resources, but you get the point: you can support authors and read cheaply or even free and be completely legit about it. You just gotta know where to look.

What are your favorite resources for free and cheap reading material? Let me know in the comments.

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Jillianne Hamilton writes delightful historical fiction and historical romance featuring rebellious ladies and happy endings.

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The Hobby Shop on Barnaby Street - WWII historical romance
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jillianne hamilton

praise for jillianne

Jillianne has done a fabulous job creating a loveable and down-to-earth heroine in Molly Miranda and followed through with a really strong plotline packed full of twists and turns.
Holly at Bookaholic Confessions
Hamilton handles the story with a deft touch, balancing action, laugh-out-loud zingers and romance with zippy pacing and a character you can really root for.
Author Kat Ross
I thought the author's sense of humor was so funny! I found myself giggling out loud.
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