Amazon is the biggest online bookstore and you can read a free preview of almost every book that is offered here – no matter whether it’s print or Kindle version. Just find the book you’re interested in, and go to its product detail page. You’ll see Look Inside! arrow on top of a cover. The Look Inside! sign is also visible in many lists and search result pages on Amazon.
In Kindle Store only, there are currently almost 1.7 million ebooks. It’s the largest catalog of contemporary ebooks, with hundreds of thousands titles published by authors using Amazon’s self-publishing platform.
To start reading, click anywhere on the cover, and a pop-up window will appear, with a free preview of the book. The part of the book that is being shown is usually not the very beginning (cover image), but the beginning of a first chapter, to let you start reading right away. If there is a table of content available, you’ll see it in the left sidebar. To switch between print and Kindle versions, use tabs in the top left corner.
Reading interface on Amazon – click to enlarge
Customization is limited to zoom-in and zoom-out. It means you can only increase or decrease font size. You can also hide the left and right sidebar. Thanks to that you can avoid distractions while reading.
If you’d like to have a more personalized interface, and if you are already a registered Amazon user, you can open the book in Kindle Cloud Reader. It’s a reader-friendly interface that allows users to manage Kindle books and read them in a browser.
To open a book in Kindle Cloud Reader, in the left sidebar of Look Inside! panel, under Deliver To, select Kindle Cloud Reader and then hit Send sample now button. Open the Kindle Cloud Reader from the address read.amazon.com and you’re good to go.
When it comes to personalization of your Kindle Cloud Reader, first of all you can pick up on of three color themes: white, sepia, and black. In addition to font size, you can also change margins and choose between one or two columns.
Kindle Cloud Reader interface – click to enlarge
Free previews are usually 10% of the length of the book. You won’t be able to read the full book, even if it’s available for free. The list of top most downloaded free Kindle titles is available in the archives of Kindle bestsellers, in the right column. To read the free book in full length, you can use Kindle Cloud Reader, after you buy it – in this case: add to your personal Kindle bookshelf for $0.00.
A huge collection of books that Google scanned and turned into viewable files is now available on Google. The homepage of Google Books is actually a search box, where you can type in the author or book’s title you’re interested in. Not all books can be previewed, but you can narrow search results to those that are. To do that, in the upper bar click on Search tools, and then Any view. Select Full view to see only the books that can be read online from the beginning to end. Select Preview and full view to have the list of books with at least an option to read a free sample.
The free preview in Google Books doesn’t have to be a first part of the book. Let’s say a publisher set a free preview to be 20% of a book. You can select a chapter in the middle and read 20% from now on. Or jump page to page if you want. You’ll be able to preview the book until you reach the limit of free pages set by a publisher.
In case of contemporary books the preview pages are scans, and they are displayed with a permission of the publisher (see screenshot below). For public domain books, you’ll be presented an option to download the book in pdf or epub format.
Reading interface on Google Books – click to enlarge
I’m a big fan of Smashwords. It’s the biggest and most advanced site with ebooks from independent authors and publishers. There are currently over 180,000 titles published.
Many Smashwords books are being sold in big ebookstores, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony eBookstore, Diesel, and iBooks Store. All these bookstores offer an option to send a sample file to a connected device or application, but options to read books online are limited to selected titles or/and short excerpts. If you find out that a publisher of the book is Smashwords, you can be sure that in the original site you can read a free sample in your browser.
What’s more, Smashwords authors have an option to set up the length of a free preview. Some writers choose to let readers preview the full book online.
On a book’s page, scroll down to see a table with available ebook reading formats. Click on Online Reading to start reading immediately.
There are several customization options to choose from. You can select size (4 levels to choose from), and font face (Arial, Courier, Times, Verdana, Georgia). You can also personalize colors by setting up your own font and background.
Quite frankly, reading interface offered by Smashwords is not the strongest part of this great site. There is no full-screen view. It would help a lot, as the book content window is very narrow. Below there is a screenshot with options I found most suitable for reading on the computer screen (font-to-background contrast not too big, font size large enough):
Project Gutenberg is a mother of all ebook sites. It started in… 1971, when a first ebook ever was created, “Declaration of Independence of the United States of America”. Many sites that offer free ebooks from public domain use the titles being originally uploaded to Project Gutenberg.
Currently, there are almost 40,000 public domain books in the catalog. If you’re looking for great classic books, Project Gutenberg is the right destination to go.
You can read the book online in two ways. First option: go to page with book details and click on Read this ebook online link. The second option is to open html file.
The Read online default option displays only the unformatted text of the book. Plus there is a left sidebar visible all the time. That’s why I found reading an html file much nicer. It displays all elements and all formatting, so you will be able to see the original cover of the book, as well as illustrations inside. You will also be able to navigate using table of content, or click on hyperlinks inside the file.
I’d like to stress that ebooks from Project Gutenberg are extremely well prepared, so using an html format to read them online is a very good idea. Once you open the file, you have the simple full-screen view that you can scroll through. The file is searchable. You can use your browser’s find tool to browse the content of a book.
Below there are screenshots with two reading options from Project Gutenberg.
Project Gutenberg read online interface – click to enlarge
Project Gutenberg read html file – click to enlarge
Blurb is one of the most important self-publishing sites, where you can find a lot of quality, very well designed ebooks. To discover new books to read, you can go directly to Blurb bookstore.
Very often, online book previews on Blurb show the entire content, as authors earn money on selling print versions. As the site is focused on showcasing beautifully designed books, the reading interface was developed with that purpose in mind. After you find the book, click on its cover if you see Preview Book! ribbon. It takes some time for the book to load, but it’s worth waiting, if you’re looking for books that could give you a visual inspiration.
I recommend switching to full-screen mode right away. You can browse through the book page by page, or quickly jump to interesting section using thumbnail preview.
Ibis Reader is a neat system, which lets you read ebooks on different devices, including computers. It’s a great way to read free Feedbooks titles in a browser – both public domain and self-published ones. Public domain titles from Feedbooks are originated from Project Gutenberg.
In a top navigation bar select Get Books, then choose a section from Feedbooks that you want to explore. I recommend Feedbooks: Popular Originals. In a search field, type a keyword or select a title from a list.
Below there is a screenshot of Alice in Wonderland in a distraction-free mode.
If you care about the user interface and a pleasure of reading, you should definitely try Bookish. The service has the most beautiful book reading interface I’ve ever seen. You have to sign in, but the process takes only a moment.
Service is designed to be a user’s cloud bookshelf. There are not many books available for immediate reading. Public domain titles can be browsed from a dashboard. You can also add your own DRM-free ePub files.
The service is often described as YouTube for documents. There are millions of docs available here: comics, presentations, brochures – and obviously books. Go directly to explore fiction and non-fiction titles.
Scribd is reading on steroids. You’ve got several ways to share what you read and admire. There is option to embed a book on blog or website. With Readcast you can automatically share your Scribd activity on Facebook or Twitter. You can also save the book for later reading, or download it in pdf, txt, or sometimes doc format. Depending on the format of the uploaded file, you can find on Scribd books that are searchable.
Some time ago the site was packed with Google ads, what made it almost impossible to focus on reading. Now the interface is much smoother and reading experience is way better than before.
Content of a book is displayed immediately when you open the book’s page. Once you scroll down, all distracting elements are gone, leaving only a top toolbar and download widget.
Canada-based Wattpad is one of the most popular e-reading communities in the world. According to official information, Wattpad readers spend over 2 billion minutes on the site every month. Every minute more than 10,000 readers are connected with a new story.
The site supports over 20 languages. When you select your mother tongue, you’ll see books in your language and book recommendations from users who selected the same language.
To find new stories, click on Discover in a navigation bar and you’ll see a handy panel where you can browse by category, type a keyword or find what other users are reading.
Another interesting book startup to watch. You can connect with your Facebook account. A dashboard is very well-organized. You can browse catalog alphabetically, by author or category, and by, yes – language.
Right panel shows details of a book. You can start reading by either clicking on a red-colored Read button or selecting one of the chapters from a table of content.