Amazon is very convenient to use, but the convenience comes at a price, both for the zero hours workers in their warehouses and for the communities that Amazon deprives of taxes. Amazon also has a history of tracking its users.
The eBooks sold by Amazon through its Kindle service have a severe restriction: Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM means books are locked to a particular device, and Amazon can edit or even remove your Kindle eBooks at any time, even after you have bought them. Amazon infamously did this to George Orwell’s “1984” and “Animal Farm”. One Kindle user had her entire library deliberately wiped by Amazon - and they refused to tell her why. In effect, you never really own a Kindle book, it belongs to Amazon forever.
Goodreads and Audible are owned by Amazon, and so contribute to these problems. Luckily there are lots of more ethical alternatives, online and offline, whether you want physical books, eBooks, audiobooks or eReaders:
The most ethical way of buying books is from your nearest bookstore. Local bookshops tend to have better working conditions, pay their fair share of taxes and don’t track their users. They also have a human being who can give you free one-to-one advice on books, and a hand-curated selection of titles. If they don’t have what you want they can order it from their suppliers, often within 24 hours.
The most ethical way of borrowing books is from your local public library. It’s free, it’s best for the environment and libraries are perhaps the only public spaces left where you can sit, read and relax for as long as you want without buying anything.
Modern libraries also lend eBooks, audiobooks, DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs and sometimes even video games. They usually cost nothing to join, your local council’s website will tell you where your nearest library is.
Better World Books
Better World Books is an online bookshop which tries to take a more ethical approach, by donating one book to charity for every book it sells.
Delivery is free worldwide.
Hive is a wholesaler-run site which lets you order books online and have them delivered to your door, or pick them up from independent bookshops in the Hive network (who receive a percentage of the sale). You can also “adopt” a favourite local bookshop which will receive a percentage of everything you spend on Hive.
Delivery is free within the UK, and a bit extra overseas.
IMPORTANT NOTE: For maximum ethical points, get in touch with your local bookshop and order from them directly, your book will cost the same but the indie will get a bigger cut of the sale than they do through Hive.
Kobo is a global eBook seller and perhaps the most comprehensive alternative to Kindle. Its bookshop Kobo.com sells both DRM and DRM-free eBooks.
The site doesn’t include any official way to separate the DRM from DRM-free titles, but you can search for DRM-free eBooks through our unofficial Kobo search page.
Kobo also make quite nice eReaders which can read almost all eBook formats (including DRM-free ones), and let you borrow eBooks from public libraries. You don’t have to use these though, as DRM-free eBooks can be read on any manufacturer’s device.
Public Domain eBooks
Many classic books are old enough to be in the public domain, so they are legal to download and distribute free of charge.
There are several major sites which distribute free public domain eBooks and audiobooks. All of these downloads are unrestricted and without DRM. If you need help with formats etc., have a look at The Epubizer.
Open Library is a Goodreads-style site where you can share reading lists, track your own book collection, borrow and download eBooks, and contribute to a catalogue of all books ever published.
The site is libre and run by the Internet Archive, a non-profit organisation dedicated to sharing knowledge.
Libreture is a Goodreads-style site which lets you store and organise your DRM-free eBooks online, browse DRM-free bookshops, discover new titles and share reading lists.
The basic account is free, and there are also paid options for people who want extra storage space (including an unlimited plan).
It’s sister site The Epubizer explains all the basics of DRM-free eBooks: what they are, how to read them and where to buy them.
Inventaire is a libre volunteer-run book lending site where you can make friends and create collaborative libraries together. You can make lists of books you want to lend to friends, and browse other friends’ lists.
It can also be used by book groups or organisations who want to share a common pool of books, as it helps the group keep track of which books are available and who has them at the moment.
Calibre is a well-established and popular libre app which lets you organise your eBook collection on your computer, edit eBooks and convert eBook files from one format to another.
It’s free and available to download for Windows, Mac and Linux from the website below.