When you buy a physical book — y'know, the kind that's made with wood pulp and ink — you can read that book anywhere you want (in a house, with a mouse, in a box, with a fox, etc.), but when you buy a digital book you run the risk of getting locked into reading that book on specific devices or sites (thanks to something called DRM protection). But it doesn't have to be that way! If you'd like to make your digital book-reading experience a little more like your physical book-reading experience, you're going to want to buy DRM-free digital books. Luckily, there are plenty of resources available to help you track down DRM-free content and many book publishers are hopping aboard the DRM-free train.
While you keep your fingers crossed the digital book industry goes all-in on DRM-free, why not peruse this list we've put together on some of the best sites for finding DRM-free ebooks. Happy hunting (and reading)!
Lulu says its mission is "making content creation and consumption a simpler and more rewarding experience for people around the world." The site is dedicated to both self publishing and content distribution — nearly two million publications have been created with the help of Lulu. And the best part about that is many of the publications are available for purchase right on Lulu's site.
Browsing the site is super simple. You can browse available books by genre, peruse the best sellers, and check out new authors. Most importantly, once you start browsing content you can limit your searches to just digital books. As a test, I checked out Lulu's fiction section — there are more than 200,000 titles available for purchase.
Calibre Open books
If you're a digital book fiend, you've probably heard of Calibre. Calibre is an application for managing digital books of all shapes, sizes, and file formats and it's a fantastic tool for maintaining a DRM-free library. It's also a good tool for finding DRM-free books!
It's certainly not the prettiest digital-book database on the list, but Calibre Open books catalogues more than 4,000 titles across 16 genres. You can sort the database by title, author, and price; individual entries feature a cover image, title, author, publisher, and a link to download or purchase the book.
If you're using Calibre to manage your digital book library, it certainly doesn't hurt to take a look at the site's digital book database. You might even find something you like!
With more than 450,000 titles published, Smashwords is a pretty popular indie book distributor. In fact, Smashwords says it's the largest indie book distributor in the world! But the site doesn't just help authors get their books in front of more readers, it also helps readers get their hands on more books … including more than 70,000 free titles! 😎
Smashwords has a very thorough search-and-sort database — you can sort by different popularity markers (most downloads, most units sold, highest rated), pricing (from free to $10 or less), word count, and more traditional methods (author, genre, title, etc.).
If you're looking for a DRM-free indie title, Smashwords is a great place to start! What's more, since the site is also a distributor, it's likely books published by Smashwords will show up in some of the other sites we've listed here (I saw several Smashwords-published books in the Calibre database, for example).
Not to be confused with Calibre Open books, OpenBooks is a pay-what-you-want digital bookstore with a growing list of titles. The site is a bit niche in that it focuses exclusively on publications meant to bring about change. If you're wondering what, exactly, that means, here's how OpenBooks describes its goals:
Our goal is to create a community that shares knowledge, experience and important values that can lead to effective activism. We want to support authors that write about change, our social or environmental impact and share personal stories that can inspire and help us to reach important goals.
You can use the site's search functionality to track down specific titles and authors, sort books by genre, or view a list of best-selling titles.
There aren't thousands upon thousands of titles on the OpenBooks platform, but the bookstore's unique pay-what-you-want methodology made it worth including on the list.
Leanpub is slightly different from many of the sites in our list because of its focus on instructional books. Put another way, Leanpub is a great place to go when you want to learn the ins and outs of building APIs, for example. And while that makes this choice a bit unique, Leanpub is a lot like the other sites on our list in that it's also a digital book publisher and distributor. Authors who want to write instructional books can head to Leanpub to publish their content.
I won't lie: The site's search-and-sort functionality isn't great, but filters for popular, well-rated content makes it a bit easier to find the good stuff. Leanpub also deserves some points for offering instructional books in more than 50 languages.
If you're looking for DRM-free digital books that'll teach you how to code a website, build an app, construct databases, and more, Leanpub is a great place to start your search.
Thoughts and opinions?
Have you tried any of the sites and bookstores we've tracked down? Have a favorite DRM-free database that didn't make the list? Give us a shout over on Twitter or in the comments below!