Back in April, I wrote a column about how much I was enjoying my e-reader (a Kindle) and pointing out some of the places from which books can be downloaded.
That was less than a year ago, but judging from some of my friends' online activity there were a number of people who got e-readers or tablets for Christmas this year and who are therefore getting into e-books for the first time. So perhaps the topic bears revisiting, with an apology to those of you for whom it's old news.
First, a word of explanation. Dedicated e-readers, often with black-and-white "e-ink" screens designed to be easy on the eyes, are an obvious way to read e-books, but if you have a more versatile color tablet (like the iPad, the Galaxy Tab or the Microsoft Surface) you can also use it as an e-reader. It may come with some e-reading software installed; you can also install Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook apps, which let you read books from those companies' wide selections.
In fact, Kindle and Nook apps are available for your smartphone as well. A smartphone may not be the optimum size for reading, but it's not bad in a pinch. The Kindle app will even save your place across platforms -- if you get to the end of chapter 7 while reading something on your Kindle e-reader, you can fire up a Kindle app on your smartphone or laptop later and pick up right where you left off, perfect when you find yourself unexpectedly idle in a situation where you forgot to bring along the e-reader.
Whatever platform or platforms you choose -- Kindle, Nook, Apple iBooks -- there are some great web sites to which you can turn for discount reading. Now, if you have to have the latest best-seller, or the most recent book by your favorite author, and you have to have it right away, you're going to end up paying full price (although full price for an e-book is usually quite a bit less than full price for a hardback). But if you're a little more flexible, you can stay quite busy reading books obtained for free or at steep, steep discounts.
My first recommendation along these lines is the Regional eBook & Audiobook Download System, or R.E.A.D.S. ( http://reads.lib.overdrive.com ), affiliated with Argie Cooper Public Library. If you have a library card, you're already set up to use this; just log in with the ID number on the back of your card. You can download e-books, either in Kindle format (the easiest option, provided you have a Kindle or a Kindle app) or in the more versatile ePub format. Kindle books are sent to your account automatically; ePub books have to be transferred manually, so they're a little more trouble, but they're usable on non-Kindle apps and devices.
The service is free, although you'll soon discover that there's a waiting list for most of what you want to read. You can put your name on the mailing list and the system will e-mail you whenever a copy of the book is available for download. It may take a week or two, but, hey, it's free.
Unlike a library book, you don't have to worry about returning an e-book borrowed through the R.E.A.D.S. system. It will automatically delete itself from your account at the end of the loan period. (You can, under your account settings, choose a default loan period of 7, 14 or 21 days.)
If you finish a book before the deadline, you can be polite and return it early in order to make it available to the next person on the waiting list. In the Kindle format, you do this by going to the "Manage Your Kindle" web page, http://amazon.com/myk, and choosing "return this book" from the dropdown list next to the appropriate title.
There are numerous web sites to which you can go to follow the latest sales or free promotions on e-books. Many of these sites offer multiple ways to keep up with the latest deals. You can manually go to the web site and browse when you feel like it; you can sign up for an e-mail newsletter; you can subscribe to an RSS feed; or you can friend them on Facebook and have their latest messages pop up automatically in your stream.
Amazon also has its own Kindle Daily Deals web site, and Nook has its Nook Daily Find.
There are scores of free books offered each day -- but many of them are self-published. (The author is hoping that the people who get free copies will leave favorable online reviews or that heavy traffic in the book will cause it to turn up in the vendor's recommendation engine.) Speaking as the author of a self-published novel, some of these books aren't that great. But for free, there's not much risk in trying them out.
Even traditional authors and publishers sometimes offer free books or heavy discounts, however. The noted Christian author Phillip Yancey, for example, and his publisher made his book "Where Is God When It Hurts?" available for free download as a public service in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings. Sometimes one of an author's older books will be given away or deeply discounted to help promote the release of a newer book, or what have you.
If you're like me, you'll find that your e-reader (or e-reader app) helps you read and enjoy more books. With smart shopping, you can easily save the cost of the e-reader when compared to buying ink-and-paper books.
--John I. Carney is city editor of the Times-Gazette and covers county government.