Even if you’re a big fan of ebooks, you might not realize that March 7-13 is Read an Ebook Week. The first Read an Ebook Week was started in 2004 and the first Amazon Kindle didn’t come out until more than three years later. Read an Ebook Week may be an idea most of us are only now catching up with. I celebrated it by accident yesterday, starting by downloading Michael Palmer’s new medical thriller The Last Surgeon on my Nook.

This year, lots of ebook vendors are participating. The Ebook Store page lists participating vendors. While the list includes stores I had shopped at in the past (cough Ellora’s Cave cough), there are lots of stores I had heard of and always meant to check out. For example, Diesel eBooks, AllRomanceEbooks, and Kobo. And even a couple of stores I wish I had heard of. (Did you know that you can buy digital copies of 2000 AD comic books like Slaine, Strontium Dog, and Judge Dredd from DriveThruComics? And they have back issues of Fantasy Book, a magazine I could never find at newsstands? Why didn’t anyone tell me this before? And people who like that site might also love WarGameVault, which is offering free downloads of RPG stuff this week.) There was even a site specializing in Spanish and Catalan ebooks.

So what else could I do but visit all those sites? At one point, I had nine tabs opened up in my browser. The only downside was that I had to sign up for each new site. This makes sense, of course, as the stores need to know you’re not a ten-year-old trying to read erotic romance. Still, creating lots of new accounts can get tedious! I lost track of the number of times I had to enter my street address or the number of times I had to figure out why some silly form wasn’t accepting my information. I also found that ever since the site changed, Ellora’s Cave no longer recognizes me. Sigh. How quickly our old loves forget us. Luckily,  no one asked for my credit card information. So if you’re nervous about giving out credit card information, at least you can still “buy” the free ebooks. Just be aware that you might have to enter your address, come up with screen names and passwords, and even give out your phone number sometimes.

Now I know many of you are asking… What about the quality of the books? If they’re free, they must be crap, right? Probably books by authors no one has heard of, right? Not necessarily. Ellora’s Cave offered thirty-three free short stories, many by authors I recognized. Heck, one of them was by Allyson James – one of Jennifer Ashley’s alter egos. If you want even more romance, AllRomanceEbooks has 174 free romances, at all heat levels and all lengths. Kobo is offering a number of free Harlequin downloads, as well as a Tim Dorsey thriller. E-reads.com is giving away Hannah Howell’s Highland Hearts, as well as one of the early Destroyer novels by Warren Sapir and Ben Murphy. Fictionwise (although not on the list of participants) is offering a free copy of Julie Garwood’s Murder List. Some print published authors, such as SF author Jeffrey Carver, are now selling ebooks from their sites and using free ebooks to promote their work. Carver provided a free download of one of his early novels — no sign-up, no nonsense, no problem.

The promotion isn’t without its duds. One site made me give them my e-mail address, postal address, and phone number, only to provide a free download with the exciting title of Property Owner’s Sewer and Drain Guide. Yeah, I’ll be sure to load that on my Nook right away. I recognized the publisher as a well known vanity press, so they’ll probably invite me to publish my poetry with them. (Maybe I’ll send them the one that starts “Here I sit, broken-hearted…”) To paraphrase George Orwell, all ebooks are created equal, but some ebooks are more equal than others.

As the plumbing manual (yawn) indicates, today’s trip down ebook lane wasn’t without its bumps. If you know much about ebooks, you know that formats can be a major headache. Most of the independent stores (such as Ellora’s Cave) offer ebooks in lots of formats, without DRM (digital rights management), but the bigger stores usually have fewer options and often annoying DRM. Sometimes those downloads mean jumping through some hoops. For example, I was sure I had broken by Adobe when I got an error message, but then it turned out the new books had downloaded after all.

Also, the design on some of the sites made me grit my teeth. Why is it hard to find books on some ebook sites? I was excited to find that one site had a True Crime category – and discouraged when the only books under that category were novels. OK, one more time, repeat after me. “Truuuue Crime.” Got that? Judith McNaught’s novels are not True Crime! Also, if you’re using the free ebooks as a way to attract new customers, wouldn’t it be a good idea to make them, y’know, easy to find? Even the indie sites have problems here. The Cerridwen Press link doesn’t show any free ebooks – and goes to the Ellora’s Cave portion of the site. Whoops.

Luckily, most sites ran much more smoothly. These companies have been around the block, and they know how to make a great ebook sites. Their owners understand that many people are still new to ebooks, or at least new to their sites. There is no shortage of FAQs for people trying to figure out how to get the blasted things to work. This is why Read an Ebook Week is a great opportunity for readers who are afraid to dip their toes into the world of ebooks. This week, you can get anything from a romance by a major author to a self-published short story, to dozens of romances , all without paying a dime.

– Anne Marble

+ posts