I recently bought a Kindle -- something I swore I'd never do. There were so many reasons I didn't want one: I already owned too many print books I hadn't read; the screen was kind of crappy; Kindle books were too expensive; the device itself was expensive; and, perhaps most troubling -- buying a Kindle felt like giving up on the publishing industry as I've known it. The worst part of the ebook model offered by Amazon was the inability to have the same kind of ownership over an ebook that I have over a physical book -- I couldn't resell it, lend it, donate it, or burn it to survive the upcoming superpocalypse. And most of those issues are still not solved. But there was one clincher that swayed things in the Kindle's favor: after going on a business trip with a book that weighed more than my laptop, I really wanted the option to have a super-light, super-portable gizmo for plane trips. And a few of the other issues (like the screen quality) have gotten better over the years. So I took the plunge and bought the basic no-frills Kindle, which has been a great way to read massive tomes like the Song of Ice and Fire series. (Oddly, I find pressing the "next page" button very satisfying. There's a progress bar at the bottom of the screen showing your percentage of book completion -- nudging that forward is like a little game I can play: "I'll stop reading tonight when I get to 25%!")
After some frustration buying ultra-expensive ebooks (as well as some reasonably-priced ones, like the initial Game of Thrones book and some deal-of-the-day books), I came across a site called Lendle. It turns out that some Kindle ebooks (not most, just some -- just those where the publisher has opted in) have the ability to be shared. Once. For two weeks. Well, this is a severely limited flavor of "sharing," but it's a far sight better than nothing. So I signed up.
The way Lendle works is pretty simple -- you tell them which books you own and are willing to lend (and it proceeds to tell you that half of them are not lendable due to the dumb publisher not opting in); you go through their library of books and select the books you want to borrow; and the site performs an anonymized match-making process. Within minutes of signing up, someone requested to borrow the book OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word, and I approved. When the lending period is up, this will give me a borrowing credit (I have my eye on some Vonnegut books I haven't read in a while, and my print copies are falling apart). It felt really good to let somebody else read a book for free, and it gave me a taste of how this ebook world could actually have benefits beyond print books -- after all, it would be quite expensive and time-consuming to put together a similar service that relied on mailing books (rather than emailing codes). Full disclosure: in my newfound joy at finding this book-sharing site, I went ahead and upgraded my account to the "Patron" level, an optional thing where you PayPal them a one-time $25 fee. This unlocks various additional features, none of which I have used yet.
Lendle upsides: Lendle has book clubs; it's integrated with Amazon's API so you can look up any Kindle book and be sure it's the right one; you get paid tiny bits of money (delivered when you get to $10 via an Amazon gift card) every time you lend a book; and this is probably the only time you will use the Kindle's built-in sharing feature.
Lendle downsides: it only works in the U.S.; you need to create your own private email address to use with the service (unless you're okay with revealing your real email address to strangers); and most books are not lendable (although the hope is that, long-term, publishers may ease up on their restrictions -- I'm not holding my breath). The other thing I've noticed it that the Lendle site can be pokey, apparently because it's pulling info from the Amazon API (for example, when you search for a book), and that appears to be inherently slow.
How to Sign Up
It's free to join and use Lendle -- in fact, they pay you! (No, I'm not clear how this works; in their FAQ they mention advertising revenue from the site, and Patron fees. I also suspect that you have to be a super-lender to accrue $10, which is the minimum payment...so there probably aren't many payouts happening each day.) If you join the site and use my referral code WTKIF5QW you or I could win a prize! Or you could just join without the code; I ain't gonna be mad at ya (but if you don't use the code, you're not entered to win a Kindle Fire!).
Other (Legal) Ways to Get Free Kindle Ebooks
My local library supposedly has Kindle books available, but I haven't been able to make the system work yet -- the library website and the creepy third party ebook site don't talk together nicely. I'll have to sit down with some friends who have done this so that I may navigate the very 1998-style websites involved with borrowing library books. I also noted that the waiting lists were extremely long, and the selection pretty thin.
There are lots of classics and older books available on Kindle (and indeed all formats), primarily via Project Gutenberg. I read Jayne Eyre in a free edition, and can't complain. I was also surprised by the large library of free short stories by authors (including Vonnegut) that are in the Kindle store -- I have a pile of bite-sized fiction on my Kindle in case I find myself on an extra-long plane ride.
If you're an Amazon Prime member, there is a small lending library available. None of the big publishers are on board with the program though, so you're only getting titles from small houses and from authors who own their electronic rights. Still, I found several books that were on my wish list that are available from the Amazon program. This isn't "free," but it's free-to-me as I already paid for the membership.
Do you know of other ways to get free ebooks? (And I don't want to hear about piracy!) Share your tips in the comments! Also, please be aware that you don't actually need Kindle hardware in order to participate in the Kindle (and Lendle) ecosystem -- there is a free Kindle app that works on smartphones, tablets, and desktop PCs (this last one is handy when you're doing research and need to refer to the book onscreen while you're typing a report).