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Don't have a Kindle 2? Try these online book sites

Amazon's Kindle 2 makes it easy to download a variety of books, but bibliophiles can find reading material in other ways.

By Barbara Krasnoff
February 25, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Inc.'s new Kindle 2, which shipped yesterday, has created a huge public splash -- and not undeservedly. The $359 device offers a thin, portable, easy way to purchase and read books, magazines and other documents -- especially for those who have never been all that comfortable with technology or (on the other side of the spectrum) are eager to make sure they have the latest and sexiest tech toys in their personal arsenal.

It's possible that if I were to get my hands on a Kindle 2, I might agree with the enthusiasts. If that should happen, I'll certainly let you know. Meanwhile, though, I'll let you in on a little secret -- or, at least, something that hasn't been a secret to any addicted reader who has owned a computer or any kind of portable tech for the past several years.

There are a lot of e-books out there, and you don't have to own a Kindle to read them. You can purchase them or download them free and legally -- from sites that offer books that are in the public domain, from advertising- or subscription-based sites that offer original literature, or from authors who are offering free samples of their work in the hope that you'll buy more.

(You should also check out your local library's Web site -- some libraries now offer downloads of books in their collections.)

What follows is a list of some of the sources I've used to put e-books on various mobile devices. They vary in the type of books they offer, whether they charge or not, and the formats they make their literature available in. But no matter what type of mobile device you carry around with you -- a netbook, an iPhone or even an old-fashioned PDA -- these sites can help you ensure that you'll never be caught without reading material again.

Project Gutenberg

The great-granddaddy of e-book sources, this site is beloved by many of us who have been reading books on-screen almost as long as there has been an Internet.

Ebook sites
Project Gutenberg
Click to view larger image.

Started by Michael Hart as part of a student project in 1971 and rapidly expanded throughout the 1990s and beyond, Project Gutenberg now offers free access to thousands of e-books in a wide variety of text and audio formats, including plain text, HTML, PDF, Ogg Vorbis, Apple iTunes Audiobook and Plucker.

Project Gutenberg also represents a less commercial side of the Web -- it operates largely via the work of volunteers, who either submit the scanned documents or proofread them (comparing the scanned page image with the text produced by optical character recognition).

In short, I was a regular visitor to the site 10 years ago when I was downloading books to my Psion 3a handheld, and it's still one of my favorite sites.


There are a lot of places to purchase e-books out there; this is the one that I usually go to first.

I was originally drawn to Fictionwise for two reasons: because it offers books in a variety of formats (such as MobiPocket) that work with relatively obscure devices and because it advertises free short stories and, occasionally, novels as a come-on for bibliophiles who want to try new authors. (In my case, it worked.)

In addition, once you buy a book, you can go back and download it as many times as you need to -- if you lose it, for example, or if you need it in a different format.

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