I like to read. I think that’s a given. I try to read about 50 books a year, which, if you can do math, is about a book a week. I don’t try to cram 52 books into a year though, because sometimes you just need a break. (Especially as the year winds down and you find yourself surrounded by people you’re supposed to interact with instead of say, burying your nose in a book and ignoring them as best you can.)
Of course, to read so many books a year, I need to have access to at least 50 books. And books are expensive, especially if you buy them new. Here’s an Important Fact: After you buy a book, kind of like after you buy anything, unless the book remains in pristine condition and becomes incredibly hard to get, it will never be worth the cover price again. Even if you haven’t read it, broken the spine or just left it on a shelf after you brought it home, it’s value decreases. This can be hard if you want to resell it, but it’s great if you’re into used books. And if you’re still reading this, I bet you are. Here are a few ways I’ve found to get books for very cheap, and in some cases, totally free.
I almost didn’t put this on the list, but people legitimately forget libraries are places you can borrow books for free. Libraries have lots going on, like after school programs, computer training and ESL classes, so people forget that their main goal is to provide information; lending books and other media are the core of that goal.
Not to mention they’re very easy to find. Simply Google searching the name of the place you live and “library” should result in plenty of hits. Taking in a driver’s license or a piece of mail with your name on it gets you a library card and access to a plethora of books. And, yes, DVDs and CDs too.
Also, many libraries have book sales. Depending on the library and the condition of the books, they can range anywhere from a few dollars to mere cents, and they can go home with you forever, so long as you can get them there. Certain libraries even eventually do mass purges, in which the books become 100% free to the public. Next time you’re at the library, check to see if they do book sales (it usually happens at the main branch), and ask for a schedule. If there’s a point when the books are available for free, the schedule will let you know when.
Bookmooch is a free online service that lets you trade in your old books for new ones. For the price of shipping a book media mail, you can get another, simply by asking. This is how it works: You post books you don’t want anymore, people request those books, you ship them out, earn points, and then request books you want from others who are willing to send them from you. Though not entirely free, it’s a great way to get rid of books cluttering up your home, as well as get new ones. You can chose where you want to ship books, so if you can’t afford to pay to send a book to the other side of the world, that’s absolutely peachy.
I mention Bookmooch specifically, but there are plenty of other sites out there that specialize in book trading, including: Paperback Swap, Title Trader and Bookin. I can’t vouch for their (complete) freeness, but a quick read over the rules and terms of service should let you know.
3. Book Exchanges
Depending on where you live, these may or may not exist, but it never hurts to Google your area + “book exchange.” How book exchanges tend to work that is a group of citizens, usually local booksellers and aficionados, get to together, collect a bunch of books from the community, rent a store front, and use it to both collect and give away used books. The nicer books they receive, they sell locally or online to pay for overhead, and the rest go onto the shelves. Some exchanges make you actually do what the title says, and give you a book for a book, five books for five books, et cetera. Others simply let you take whatever you want home, up to a certain amount.
4. Yard, Garage, Estate Sales and Flea Markets
Out of anything on this list, yard and garage sales are the hardest places to find books. If they have any books, it’s usually easy readers the sellers’ children have outgrown. Many people selling on their lawn focus more on housewares, toys, games, and even clothes, instead of books. But the good news is, because so few people try to sell books this way, and so few people go to yard sales to buy them, people who DO put out books often have them for very cheap, or eventually throw them into the “free” pile when they fail to clear out. Going to yard sales later in the day will sometimes yield incredibly cheap or absolutely free books, if you stumble upon the right one.
Estate sales and flea markets are better. Estates sales are an “everything must go” type of sale that happens when a person dies and no one has claim to their possessions, or when houses are foreclosed with everything inside, and the bank makes the money to pay off the mortgage by selling off the leftover stuff. This means anything the person owned, from crockery to furniture to – yes – books are up for grabs. And because whoever’s selling is probably trying to move things fast, deals can be made, especially if the books are rather used. Don’t be afraid of haggle.
The same goes for flea markets, where anything found at them can have a dubious origin and a not so fresh exterior. I once found a copy of Lloyd Alexanders The Black Cauldron for 50 cents, and talked the woman running the stall down to 25 cents because the cover was ripped. Usually, people are just looking to get rid of things at flea markets, and they’re happy with any decent price that gets the item off their hands. Once again, going towards the end of the market day you’ll find prices greatly reduced, but since a flea market has more variety, it’s always good to get their earlier to check out the wears.
5. Half.com, Amazon Marketplace, eBay, etc.
These seem pretty obvious to me, but I notice a lot of people buying straight from Amazon when they could get a gently used copy of the same thing for a third of the price. Many, many, MANY books are listed on there for no more than a cent + shipping. This is an especially good deal if you need to order any books in bulk, and you find a seller who has an entire warehouse to liquidate. Half.com and eBay work similarly, though the cheapest you can sell on Half is, I believe, $.75. Still, that’s a fraction of the original cost, including shipping. On eBay, people often sell books in lots. You can walk away from an auction with 50 books for $5 if you’re you’re a good enough bid sniper.
6. Entering Contests
Plenty of web sites, such as my favorite book cataloging site, GoodReads, have free giveaways. On GoodReads, entering is as simple as giving the site your address and telling them you want the book. If you win one, it’s implied you leave a review, but what are you amassing books for if you’re not reading them? Plus, reviewing them increases your chances of winning more!
Check authors web sites for giveaways too, as well as popular literary blogs. And if you know of any sites that do giveaways, feel free to leave them in the comments.
7. Ebooks, Project Gutenberg and some pretty awesome authors
I think we all know what ebooks are by now, but did you know that some of them are absolutely free? Books in the public domain can be freely uploaded, downloaded and archived as much as you want. If you have an eReader, many of these public domain books can be downloaded for free straight onto it, or, if you’re not so technologically advanced, web sites like Project Gutenberg provide versions you can download and read on your computer or phone, and most can be read right on the site. GoodReads also has quite a collection of free-to-read ebooks, as well as free previews and excerpts.
Some authors are into sharing and don’t treat the copyright on their works as absolute law. Or, at least, they have more malleable ideas about copyright, and make their materials available for really cheap or free. Authors like Neil Gaiman provide free samples of their work on their websites – entire stories or audio readings. (And he ALWAYS tweets about free and cheap offers on his books.) Wil Wheaton, author and tech geek, sells homemade books very cheaply, both in print and ebook format. And some authors, like Cory Doctorow, hate copyright with a burning passion, and make all of their work available for free online.
My point with this entry: Seek, and ye shall find. All of the above points are completely legal ways to get cheap or entirely free books. Even if you’re not as voracious a reader as I am, it never hurts to have a few unread novels lying around for when you need them.
And P.S.: If you know of any other ways to get free or super cheap books, feel free to leave them in the comments!