Everyone likes to get something for nothing, or close to nothing, and readers are no strangers to the appeal. It’s especially true as more readers from all economic strata are gaining access to e-reader devices. Whether it’s on a smartphone, a tablet, a computer or a dedicated reader, the e-book generation has arrived.

I grew up reading mass market paperbacks believing a hardcover was either a) a library book or b) something rich people with libraries owned. I found paperbacks at the 5&10 store—that really ages me, especially since I can remember stores with a lunch counter—as well as the grocery store. I don’t actually remember going to a proper bookstore until I went to college. And what an experience that was! I felt completely out of place and wanted nothing more than to run back to the friendly paperback section of the downtown Philadelphia Woolworth store on Chestnut Street. I hung out there every Saturday afternoon, reading the romances in secret because I was a poor student and spending money on a romance novel was not a smart thing to do. But I really needed the break from boring and sometimes overwhelming text books.

But these days there are many digital books available for free, without even having to trek to a library. The concept of “free” reading is more than appealing, it’s life-changing.

I started an experiment with “free” books in 2014. Starting on January 1st, I decided I would not buy a single book for my iTunes/iBook account on my new iPad. Instead, I’d just download free books and see what I found. I honestly didn’t think I’d find many books I’d want to read, since, well, free often means self-published, not-quite-polished books or out-of-copyright books I probably already own in my personal library. Plus, for my personal reading time, I’m really picky. I mean it. REALLY picky. I want something I can really get lost in. I’m distracted enough with work and family, so reading is my escape and a book has to be really good to pull me away. But I love an experiment, and so every day I’d spend 15 minutes browsing iTunes and other free-book listing sites for books to download.

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You’d be surprised what you can download in 15 minutes a day! I started filling up my account with all kinds of books I might want to try, and by January 15,th I had to limit it to books I would read sooner than later. My reading habit was to give a book a good couple of chapters or 10 minutes of reading and if it didn’t grab me, I’d just delete and move on. After all, it was a free book, so there was no economic pressure to finish. I found the books I really wanted to read were usually self-help books or business books. The romances and thrillers weren’t that thrilling or good enough to hold my attention, although I found some of the contemporary ones were short and easy to fly through. But they often left me feeling discontented, which was a shame since my pleasure reading time is limited.

By the end of January, I discovered Oyster and signed up for the free month. They lured me in with an unlimited number of books to read at any time, including books from some of my favorite romance authors. I soon abandoned my “free” book downloads on iTunes for the books on Oyster. And since I really didn’t pay for an individual book and the price is about the same as a discounted price for a trade paper book, I feel justified in adding the streaming option to my experiment. And to be honest, I find I enjoy re-reading some of my old favorites on Oyster instead of experimenting with free books by unknown authors. Another bonus: It keeps me from purchasing e-book versions of books I have somewhere in the house. And I’ve discovered a couple of new authors—which I’ll have to buy in printed form. I’m a big re-reader, and if I fall in love with a book I need to have the paper version, too.Heiress Without a Cause

So, has my experiment in discovering new authors via the “free” model worked? After two months I’d say that I’ve found more new authors worth reading in the streaming model versus the free download model. On the flipside, I’m starting to feel like I’m running out of things to read on the streaming model—they simply aren’t adding new books fast enough for me. I’ve added a subscription to Scribd to my experiment, so I suppose I’ll be able to tell by the end of March how it’s going. Scribd is supposed to have more books than Oyster plus lots of self-uploaded works and I’m excited to see what’s new on Scribd. But in the meantime, I have a lot of downloaded e-books to get through.

Right now, I’m in the mood for a kick-ass romantic suspense. A great author to try is Liliana Hart, who has a new book out. Sizzle (self-published; February 18, 2014) is Hart’s latest MacKenzie Security novel, a spin-off of her hot MacKenzies series. I had to buy this one in paperback because I’m collecting the whole series. Our reviewer says Sizzle “starts and ends with a bang,” so I know it lives up to the high-caliber read I’ve come to expect from Hart’s books. The book features two great characters on a special mission filed with revenge and hot sexual tension. What’s not to love?

And speaking of “free,” be sure to download the first in Sara Ramsay’s Muses of Mayfair series, Heiress Without a Cause (self-published; January 2012). A Regency to defy the genre formula, a disgraced duke and an heiress fighting for one chance at love manage to find each other as they both “act” as people other than their true selves…or do they? I loved Heiress and am happy to say it’s a great introduction to a new historical author. You’ll thank me later, and then you’ve got four other muses to discover! If you’re like me, you’ll end up getting them in paperback too.

Have you tried downloading free books, and if so, what was your experience? Finding some new things to read and tell others about or not?

Sara Reyes is the founder and partner at FreshFiction.com, a popular fiction web site for today's reader with new titles, contests, over 50,000 genre fiction author profiles with backlists, and permanently archived reviews, plus all the industry buzz. Fresh Fiction has a biweekly segment (Buy the Book) on WFAA Channel 8 Good Morning Texas to talk about new books not to miss. Believing face-to-face interaction is as important as virtual communities, Fresh Fiction sponsors Adventures in Fiction in February, an annual author reader tea in June, a readers conference in November, monthly literary events, and book clubs. Follow Sara at @FreshFiction on Twitter or Facebook.com/FreshFiction.