When you can't visit your local library or browse a favorite bookstore, these e-books and audio versions are the next best thing.

By Jessica Bennett
March 27, 2020

We're all spending a lot more time at home these days, and for me, that means more minutes spent curled up on the couch with a good book. As the days spent social distancing stretch on, however, my options for reading materials are slowly starting to dwindle. And with bookstores and libraries closing their doors, replenishing the stack of paperbacks next to my bed might be a challenge for the time being.

Luckily, e-books and audiobooks offer a convenient digital alternative, and millions of them are available right now for free. Although I'll always prefer cracking open a hard copy from my local used bookstore, these free online options are the next best thing.

Credit: Tempura/Getty Images

Apple Books

Apple Books, a free app available on iOS devices, now includes a featured collection of free e-books and audiobooks for children and adults. Including popular picks like Pride and Prejudice and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the options span a variety of genres, including mystery, romance, fantasy, and classic literature. You can download as many titles as you'd like to your device so you can read or listen offline. Many of these free titles are the first in a series, so you can sample the initial book before purchasing the sequels (most range in price from $3.99 to $14.99).


To help keep families occupied while schools are closed, Audible is now offering a free collection of stories for kids (or anyone who loves a good story). The lineup includes familiar favorites like Winnie the Pooh, Adventures in Wonderland, and Jane Eyre. Available for unlimited streaming across the globe, the stories are offered in six languages: English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Japanese. You can stream them now on your desktop, laptop, phone, or tablet (no Audible subscription needed).

The Libby App

Borrow titles from your local library (without having to leave your house) with the Libby app. Free for download on iOS and Android devices, the app grants you access to millions of e-books and audiobooks with no subscription required. To start reading, all you need is a valid library card. After selecting your local branch, you'll sign in using your card number and PIN. You can then browse your library's entire collection of digital titles, which you can stream or download for offline reading. (Other multimedia items offered through your library, such as DVDs, are not available through the app.) If the book you want is already checked out, you can place a hold to add your name to a waitlist.

National Emergency Library

For teachers and students who can't access libraries for learning or research right now, the National Emergency Library can help. For the duration of the national emergency caused by the new coronavirus, readers can access 1.4 million digitized books without joining a waitlist. Many of the books are from the 20th century and exist only on paper, so with libraries closed, a digitized version is the only way to read them. This online lending library was created by the nonprofit group Internet Archive, which also offers free public access to 2.5 million public domain books available for download. You can set up a free account on the website and check out up to 10 books at a time.


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