6 Best Websites for Free College Textbooks
Textbook costs add to the expense of higher education. But if you’re savvy, you can get them for free.
October 21, 2022
All college students have been there. You receive the reading list for your classes, and you’re excited to learn more about a subject you love or will prepare you to launch your career. But then you Google the names of the textbooks on your reading list and realize that most of them have triple-digit price tags. The average textbook costs between $80 and $150. That’s a lot of money when you already have to contend with tuition and student loans. Fortunately, there are ways to secure free college textbooks.
We’ll outline the six best websites to help you do exactly that (and three sites to steer clear of).
6 sites that offer free college textbooks
You can’t afford to waste time before you get the textbooks you need, so let’s skip straight to the good stuff. We’ve compiled a list of the six best websites for securing free college textbooks below.
The Texas-based Rice University provides free college textbooks through OpenStax, but the site isn’t just for its own students. It’s a nonprofit project used by more than 7,000 schools across the globe.
The textbooks span various subjects, from computer science to social science. You can download all the titles for free, and everything’s vetted to ensure it’s licensed.
It even has high school textbooks and additional learning resources through the OpenStax Tutor.
2. Project Gutenberg
Named after Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, Project Gutenberg is a nonprofit project with one primary mission: to break down the barriers to education across the world by providing resources in various languages and formats.
While most sites are inconsistent about the file types available for any given book, Project Gutenberg provides HTML, PDF, MOBI (for Kindle), EPUB and even plain text for every title.
If you’re a humanities or literature student, this one’s a must, as you’ll find most of the classics here. It’s not so reliable with more modern textbooks, but you may just get lucky.
3. Internet Archive (The Wayback Machine)
Internet Archive is a search engine that contains pictures of websites and pages from “way back” — meaning you can access internet content that has since been deleted or changed.
The website also has a dedicated section for books called the Open Library. There are some titles you can read from your browser right away; others you’ll have to “borrow” (meaning you’ll only have the book for a fixed period and a limited number of people have access at any given time). Most books can only be borrowed for one hour, but it’s sometimes possible to rent one for a few days.
4. The Open Textbook Library
Not to be confused with Internet Archive’s Open Library, Open Textbook Library contains various textbooks that are openly licensed (meaning they can be legally attributed with the right attribution). With just over 1,000 textbooks, it has a smaller library than others.
Grand Valley State University offers ScholarWorks, which lets you download free college textbooks from a wide array of topics, even if you’re not a student. You don’t need to create an account on the site to start reading.
Bookboon contains a range of ebooks and audiobooks. Most of the content is focused on professional development rather than being strictly academic, but you may find it useful if you study a business-related subject. It also has some science books.
But before you get too excited, it’s time for the bad news. Bookboon is only free for a limited time. You can register and enjoy a free trial for 30 days, but after that, you’re looking at a minimum of $5.99 per month.
3 sites to avoid for free college textbooks
When you search for “free college textbooks,” it’s important to be careful about the websites you click on. Digital piracy — the distribution of content to get around copyright law and payment — is illegal and could leave you vulnerable to ransomware.
Yet piracy is common practice for most digital file types, from movies to music, and textbooks are no exception. To avoid breaking the law and the consequences that come with it, stay away from the three websites mentioned below. If you come across another site we haven’t mentioned that seems “too good to be true,” do your research before hitting the download button.
1. Library Genesis (LibGen)
LibGen provides a range of textbooks in electronic form (mostly EPUB and PDF files). It has a simple interface and a huge online library boasting millions of titles, including articles and magazines.
However, while this sounds great from a student’s perspective, LibGen contains many files that have been distributed illegally. It’s also been sued by the likes of science publisher Elsevier.
2. Free Book Spot
Free Book Spot doesn’t host its own content but provides links to external sites on the web. You can also request the site owners to seek a book you’re after.
Since this site is simply an index of links from all over the web, you should be careful with the resources you find there. It may expose you to viruses or pirated textbooks.
3. PDF Drive
As the name suggests, PDF Drive hosts PDF textbooks, which it sources from elsewhere on the web using crawlers. It has more than 81 million titles, but as with the sites mentioned above, the free college textbooks you find on this site may infringe on copyright laws.
Other tips to get cheaper textbooks
Free college textbooks might be ideal, but cheap textbooks are the next best thing. If you don’t like online textbooks and prefer to work from physical copies, you may need to explore other avenues. But don’t worry, you can still keep costs low.
One of the best ways to save on college textbooks is to buy second-hand — and thanks to the internet, it’s also easier than ever. You no longer need to rely on previous students or local sales and can turn to the likes of Amazon and eBay to buy from students across the country.
You may even be able to get grants or financial aid. There are various student scholarships available with the purpose of helping students to get the textbooks they need, including Barnes and Noble Book Scholarships and the Women in Higher Education book scholarships.
Now, back to studying
It’s the 21st century, and securing free textbooks has never been easier. Whatever you’re studying, there’s a good chance there are open educational resources to help you if you’re willing to spend some time looking for them. So, count your blessings and go download some books.
If you’re anything like the average college student, there’s a good chance you have credit card debt. So, if you manage to save some money by getting your textbooks for free, consider using it to pay off your debt.
Not sure where to start? Check out the Tally† credit card repayment app, which takes your higher-interest credit card debt and turns it into one lower-interest line of credit. It will also automate your payments.
†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. The APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% and 29.99% per year and will be based on your credit history. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 to $300.