Q: How Can I Get Free Digital Books and Magazines?

Q: I'm an avid reader, but buying audio and e-books can add up. Are there affordable options?

A: I've always enjoyed reading, and after the introduction of electronic devices like Amazon's Kindle (electronic ink reader) and tablets, there's more content than ever! The ability to enlarge fonts on a screen, as well as back lighting and different page background colors (e.g. sepia tones), makes reading easier for our senior eyes.

Amazon was the original successful pioneer of e-readers, and currently maintains a huge Kindle store of e-books that can be read both on their hardware devices or your own tablet/smartphone using the Kindle software app. If you own one of the Kindle devices and have an Amazon Prime expedited shipping subscription ($99 annual fee), Amazon has a lending library where you can borrow one e-book per month for free (the extensive selections include New York Times listed bestsellers). I usually like to browse the Amazon Kindle book reviews to get other reader perspectives, but will end up getting a lot of free content through other sources. 

If you have a tablet, it's usually supported by a manufacturer (e.g.. Apple, Google Android, Kobe), and those companies maintain digital stores.

For example, Apple devices have the AppStore, iTunes, iBooks, Newsstand, iTunes University and Podcast apps, all of which can provide free content with a bit of searching. Our first screenshot is a recent listing of iBook free offerings, including e-books and comic books for the grandchildren, that you can download and read right in your iBooks app on the iPad.

Another great source of free books is of course, your local municipal library. Our Hawaii State Library is affiliated with the "Overdrive" system, so once you've downloaded the Overdrive software app onto  your device, you can specify your local library if they are a member, as well as input your library card number and other account details. From there, you can then browse your library's inventory of both e-books and audiobooks (great for listening during a commute or errands).

Our state system has the digital rights to a large selection, including multiple copies, so the trick here is to use the Overdrive filters to locate your favorite authors or topics. As demonstrated in this screenshot, I've asked the app to show me books on "Pets", and to only show me the titles that are available to be borrowed now. Small icons tell you whether the book is an audio one or an ebook for reading on your tablet. You can also view 'All Titles', and if someone else already has it out, you can put yourself on a waiting list and you'll be notified by email when the item is returned so that you can log on and borrow it at that time. 

Your local library may also have a great supply of digital magazines that you can borrow via another affiliated system called "Zinio".  It'll take setup effort to download the Zinio app which is used to view magazines on your tablet, as well as to activate your library's Zinio account from which to browse and borrow titles, but once you get both accounts set up, you may be surprised at the number of titles that you can borrow. Here are screenshots of our local library's magazine inventory. As you can see, not only are there a lot of titles, but you can also borrow back issues of a particular magazine (e.g. all available issues of Apple Magazine).

Finally, for those of you who enjoy audiobooks, you may want to consider listening to podcasts, which are shorter in length, so that the entire episode can be finished during a walk or supermarket trip. Your tablet will typically have a podcast app already provided, or you can install third party players such as Downcast or Stitcher.

Here's a glimpse at the Apple iTunes top podcast chart. The trick to an enjoyable podcast experience is finding the shows that you relate to. My personal favorite is the 'Satellite Sisters', a podcast by five biological sisters chock full of hilarious and poignant anecdotes from their personal and professional lives. There are recreational podcasts, so that you can be immersed in a fan discussion of your favorite TV show (e.g. Shark Tank, Lost) or a radio or news show (e.g. NPR, 60 Minutes).

Podcasts are also a useful learning tool. For example, if you're trying to figure out a particular software program, gain some knowledge on autism, or get cooking tips, to name a few, you can bet that there is a podcast for your topic. Once you find a good series with personable moderator(s) and guests, you can subscribe to the podcast to get new episodes as they're released. 

Hope that this summary gives you a lot of enjoyable reading and listening material throughout the holidays and the new year! Do you have other favorites and recommendations? Please share them in the comments section.

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