Books are wonderful. They are portals to new worlds, and teachers of all manner of skills. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive. Especially when purchased new and from the main street shop. Their high cost can mean that people who really want to read might not be able to do so, at least not on a regular basis. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to acquire books cheap(er) or even for free. Whether your budget doesn’t stretch to books, or you’d rather spend the money elsewhere, here are 11 ways to read on the cheap.
This is the big one. If your community has a library, use it. It can give you all the books you could ever read. Most libraries are free for residents. (Some may charge a nominal fee for a card, but it’s worth it considering all you get.) Even if your branch doesn’t have the books you want on the shelf, inquire if they can can get them from other branches, or through an interlibrary loan program. And don’t forget to look beyond your municipal library. University and community college libraries are often open to the tax-paying public, although they may charge a fee for non-student use. Churches and other community groups/programs sometimes offer libraries, as well.
Community Pop-up Libraries
Some neighborhoods offer “Little Free Libraries” (or similar programs). These are places where people are encouraged to “drop a book, take a book.” You can give any book you own and take anything in the box in return. Some are formal boxes on street corners, others are found in places like doctor’s offices, mom and pop stores, library entrance foyers, and restaurants. Just look around and if you spy one of these, take advantage.
There are plenty of free ebooks available online. Many libraries have a partnership with OverDrive and/or Hoopla which give you access to mainstream books for free. Some publishers give away the first book in a series to get you hooked. Others mark standalone titles free for a limited time to promote an authors’ backlist. You can also find a lot of ebooks marked at $1.00 or so. Yes, some of these are crap, but there are some gems in there. Just look around the major online retailers and search by free or sort the prices lowest to highest. You can also subscribe to sites like BookBub and they will notify you when freebies appear in your favorite genres. There are also sites like Wattpad that host free stories, and you can often find free short stories on author’s websites. Just look around because there is tons of reading material out there.
Anything old enough to be beyond copyright protection is generally free online. Sites like Project Gutenberg are dedicated to making these titles available for free. You may also be able to get some editions for free through various retailers, or at least deeply discounted.
Libraries and other groups often host book sales to get rid of old inventory, raise money, and disperse an overload of donations. Books are often inexpensive to start, and tend to get cheaper as the sale progresses. Sometimes the sale ends in, “All you can fit in a box for $5,” or similar pricing strategies. Some sales even have a Free table and anything on it costs $0.
Most thrift stores offer used books. Sometimes the books are barely used. Check around your town for thrift, consignment, charity or secondhand shops.
The main bookstore shelves might be out of your price range, but be sure to check the clearance racks. Often there are some great titles on there going cheap. It’s not all junk, either. Many titles are mainstream offerings that are either getting a bit older, or which the store needs to sell to reduce inventory.
Used Book Stores/Online Used Sales
Many towns have a used bookstore. This can be a great place to score gently used books. Some offer trade-in programs where they give you money/store credit for your books which you can then spend on more books. Don’t forget online used sales on sites like Amazon and eBay. (Watch your prices, though. Some places sell used books for the same price as new, or for very little difference. Or, they sell the book cheap, but jack up the shipping to boost their profit. Don’t get burned.)
Friends, Family, and Swaps
Borrow and loan books among your family and friends, or start a formal book swap. You can also look into swaps on neighborhood sites like Facebook and NextDoor.
Other Sources of Sales and Giveaways
Garage sales, estate sales, and the like can be a book hunters dream. You may also get lucky and find someone on Craigslist or Facebook either selling books cheap, or giving them away. Sometimes people need to move or make money in a hurry and will part with books for nothing or very little money. Keep your eyes peeled.
Ask for Gifts
When Christmas or your birthday roll around and people ask, “What do you want?”, ask for books. Or, if you can’t think of any titles off the bat, ask for gift cards to bookstores.
It’s possible to read widely and well without spending any money, or at least very little. The key is in being flexible about what you will read and when. If you have to have the latest book on release day, you won’t have much luck. But if you can wait, you can find plenty of material at the library or through other sources and pay very little. (Note that this is true for a lot of things. Patience and a willingness to step off the traditional consumer path often leads to savings.)