Ask any student, and they'll tell you textbooks are expensive. (Who in their right mind thought to make textbook prices upwards of $100 when students have five classes at a time and new classes every semester?!) If you don't want to pay exorbitant money for textbooks, this post is for you. We'll uncover 12 free textbook websites where you can download almost any class's textbook.
One caveat: most of these websites have free PDFs, but the printed versions will still cost money. Regardless, free online textbooks are better than pricey ones from the bookstore. You'll no longer need to break the bank to learn. Let's dive in.
Free Textbook Websites
Here are 11 of the best free textbook websites on the web.
Created by Rice University, OpenStax is a non-profit educational project. On OpenStax, you'll find textbooks on all subjects, including physics, math, biology, social sciences, humanities, business, and more!
The really cool thing about this site is that because it's run by a university, all the college textbooks on OpenStax are very standard and regulated. What this means is that you'll be able to seamlessly use textbooks from OpenStax in conjunction with your course.
Note almost all textbooks on this website are college/university textbooks. There are a limited number of high school textbooks, but not many. If you're a college student, though, definitely give OpenStax a try.
Open Textbook Library
At Open Textbook Library, you can download all the open textbooks for free! That's right, not only can you view them online, but you can also download them to your computer and adapt them to your own needs.
Mainly aimed at college students, the textbooks on Open Textbook Library include subjects like business, computer science, education, engineering, humanities, law, mathematics, and even medicine.
The really cool thing about Open Textbook Library is that you can contribute your own textbooks to the site. If you decide you want to give back, you can write a guide/textbook and Open Textbook Library will add it to their collection for future students to use.
PDF Search Engine
Unlike some of the other websites on this list, PDF Search isn't really a catalog as much as it is a search engine!
PDF Search utilizes Google's massive database to try and find the PDF you're looking for. All you need to do is enter the title of the book/article/report you want, click “Search,” and you're off to the races.
I recommend using the site first to see if Google has the textbook PDF you want. If you can't find it on this site, resort to the other websites.
Run and maintained by GSVU (Grand Valley State University)'s library, ScholarWorks is a database of all the works submitted by GSVU scholars.
On ScholarWorks, you can search for whatever textbook you need and chances are they'll have a copy of a similar text available. You can search for texts via title, author, citation, keywords, and more.
This should be your last resort if you can't find a copy of the actual text you need anywhere else.
Mainly focused on IT, business, and engineering, Bookboon is an online publishing company for eBooks written by professors from the world's top universities.
If you're a student with any of those three interests, today's your lucky day. Bookboon has the cleanest user interface out of all the sites on this list and has tons of books on the subjects it specializes in.
When it comes to free textbook websites for IT, business, and engineering students, Bookboon is the absolute winner.
Free Kids Books
The final website on this list is a sort of bonus entry. You're probably not going to find any textbooks on this site, but you will find tons of young adult's and children's books.
If you have a younger sibling or someone close to you who's a child or tutors a teen, this is the perfect site to teach them reading without breaking the bank.
From K-12 to primary to secondary education, Free Kids Books covers books suitable for all youth. A great site for students, parents, and teachers alike.
Though Google Scholar might not be the exact definition of a free textbook website, but its function is just the same (or better)!
Using this site, you can conduct searches for any topic across a broad number of scholarly databases. It works just like Google, except places more emphasis on showing you peer-reviewed work, academic journals, books, theses, technical reports, and other such scholarly literature.
The site is essentially a one-stop shop for the projects you take on that require you to do any research. It's free, thorough, and likely to save you lots of money and time!
If you're studying computer science in school, FreeTechBooks is a website that you simply need to check out. The site lists tons of free online engineering, computer science, and programming content available for your learning.
At FreeTechBooks, you'll find books, lecture notes, and ebooks to help you with your studies. The one catch is that FreeTechBooks doesn't actually own the books and just provides links to the resources and websites that actually have the PDFs and HTMLs. Occasionally, there will be a dead link, but most of the time, the links to resources work perfectly.
One of the biggest shadow libraries in the entire world, Library Genesis lets you save money by providing you tons of academic journals, general-interest books, magazines, and comics completely free.
Also known as LibGen, Library Genesis is a great resource for when the content or required textbooks you're trying to find are paywalled online. The site enables you to find free versions or links to resources that are very similar.
If you have a class that requires you to write about an old cultural piece of work, chances are you'll be able to find it on Project Gutenberg.
The site is a volunteer effort to digitize cultural works and is your best option for finding any kind of classic literature in ebook format.
Not only does Gutenberg have an extensive online library, but the site also offers plenty of offline catalogs to help you find the ebooks you need.
As you might guess from the name, Archive.org is a place on the internet where all things are archived.
You can find various deleted YouTube videos here, lost documents, and other media you can't find elsewhere.
Though it is an all-purpose website, many students use it to back up their digital textbooks. If you can't find the textbook you want online, check out Archive.org as a last resort.
FAQ About Free Textbook Websites
Here are some frequently asked questions about free textbook websites answered.
- Is it illegal to get free college textbooks from these sites and not buy them from my university?
In the United States, most higher education institutions make textbook purchases optional. This means that regardless of whether you're attending a private or state university, you should be fine using free online books instead of the ones your school provides.
- Is an open textbook library safe and legit?
Most textbook resources online are safe to use, although some have come under fire for breaching specific privacy laws. What this means for you as a student is that to have continual free access to textbooks, you might have to hunt around online (as the domains might change).
- Can I redistribute the learning resources that I get from these websites?
Usually, redistribution of these materials without permission is not allowed. That being said, some websites make it explicit that it's ok for you to share the pdfs or content. If that is the case, then you share as much as you'd like.
- What are some other ways I can lower college costs?
Though finding cheap textbooks on the web is helpful, it certainly won't offset the entire cost of your college journey. Some other ways to save money are to apply for financial aid, renegotiate your student loan, and even enlist social media for help (there are plenty of very successful GoFundMe campaigns for college students).
If you're a student, you know just how expensive college life can be and how hard saving money is. Between food, rent, and all school expenses, it's no wonder that over 40 million people have student loan debt. Though it might not completely eliminate your troubles, finding ways to get cheaper or free textbooks online can significantly cut down on the cost of your time in school.
This post has covered 11 of the best websites to get free college textbooks and also listed some resources to check out (that might save you even more money). As a quick recap, here are some highlights:
- OpenStax – for standard textbooks that are easy to incorporate with your course
- Open Textbook Library – for free downloadable PDFs and user-submitted PDFs
- PDF Search – for an engine like Google or Bing, which will scour the web for the document you need
- ScholarWorks – for a research-focused catalog of texts by GSVU scholars
- Bookboon – for an extensive library of IT, business, and engineering books
- Free Kids Books – for a website full of free novels and books for a younger audience
Between these 11, you're sure to find the textbook you need. If worse comes to worst, there are plenty of other websites you can check out to buy used textbooks for cheap. Good luck and happy studying!
This article was produced by Wealth of Geeks.
Jeff is a current Harvard student and author of the blog Financial Pupil who is passionate about learning, living, and sharing all things personal finance-related. He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys the pursuit of financial freedom. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.