Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Frugal Reader’s Guide to Cheap Books

I like to read. And I love buying books. I do buy some books at full price, but there are only so many books that I’ll shell out $16 to read. And so I’ve found other cheaper ways to get my book fix.

1. The Library

Yes, the library is the most obvious way to read books for free. But not everyone takes advantage of all the features a library offers. Here are a few that my library system offers:

  • Holds – This is the #1 feature I use at my library. It’s extremely rare that a book I want to read is on the shelf at my branch. When I think of something I want to read, I can go to the website at any time of day and place a hold on the item, and it will be delivered to the branch of my choice when it’s available.
  • E-books and other formats – There are ways to read books other than physical copies. I’ve been enjoying the newly available Kindle library lending. It’s also nice to have audio books on CD for a long road trip.
  • Featured shelf – My library has a shelf of featured books. A lot of them are recent best sellers that would otherwise have a long hold line, but you can pick it right off of the featured shelf. I’ve found a lot of good books through this.

2. Used Books

This is my favorite way of getting cheap books because I get a book to keep, and I like the concept of reuse. Some good ways of getting used books:

  • Online sellers
    There are many places online to buy and sell used books. Probably two of the most popular are and Amazon. I’ve bought a lot of books through There’s a lot available for 75 cents. Shipping costs another $3.49 for paperbacks, but if you buy multiple books from one seller, it costs less for each additional book.
  • Swapping
    With all the cheap books you’ll be buying, you’ll probably find that you don’t need to keep all of them once you’ve finished reading them. So… swap them! Swap your books for credits that can be used to get books on BookMooch or allow the automated system to find you items you want in exchange for items that you have on I really like the system because it’s constantly looking for possible swaps for you, and you don’t have to look for them on your own. It also provides easy print-at-home mailing labels (it’s around $3.25) if you prefer not to go to the post office.
  • Used book stores
    The stores are different everywhere, but there’s a good chance you’ll have at least one used book store in your area. In general, I’ve found prices at these stores to be a little better than buying new on Amazon, but it’s probably still going to run about $8 for a paperback. But even bargain bookstores have a bargain section, and I’ve managed to get books that were on my wishlist for only $1.

    I also have to give a special mention to my favorite bookstore in the world, Powell’s Books in Portland. If you’re ever there, it’s worth a stop. It takes up an entire city block! I’ve never stepped into Powell’s without buying something. It’s that good.
  • Thrift shops
    My area’s thrift stores have a surprisingly good selection of fiction books. You may not find a specific book you’re looking for, but it’s always possible to find something good to read. Value Village’s most expensive books cost $2.99. They also do promotions. Today, I dropped off a donation and got a $3 coupon, and there was also a “buy 4 get 1 free” deal on books. So I got 5 books for less than $10!
  • Periodic sales
    Okay, I must admit, I am generally too lazy to do this sort of thing. Garage sales fall into this category. Half Price Books, my local used bookstore chain, does a huge warehouse sale every so often. Seattle Public Library does occasional book sales, too. Lots of books for a buck or two.

3. Giveaways

It took me quite awhile to find out about this source of books. And it’s incredibly awesome. Books for free? Free books even before they’re released to the public? And no catch?!

Okay, I guess there is a little bit of a catch. You have to enter for each giveaway, and chances are, you won’t win. You increase your chance at winning books by entering more giveaways (which takes time). You can always increase your odds of winning by being active on the site doing the giveaways and writing reviews.

Here are the giveaway sites I’ve found so far:

  • GoodReads
    My fave so far! I’m already active on this site because this is where I keep track of books I’ve read and books I want to read. There are a lot of reasons to use this site. Virtual book clubs and book challenges, good reviews (I find the ratings much more useful than Amazon ratings), and author Q&A sessions. New giveaways start each day. You have a better chance of winning books if you’re active on the site and review the books you’ve received. I’ve been getting a few books per month through these giveaways. Examples of authors who have advanced reader copies (ARC) given away on this site: Kristen Hannah, Philippa Gregory, and Gregory Maguire.
  • LibraryThing
    This site is a lot like GoodReads, but I could never get into the interface. There are also limits on how many books you can add to your bookshelf unless you pay a subscription fee. They do a big batch of giveaways once a month. The books are probably similar to the ones on GoodReads. I never won anything, but I also didn’t try very hard or for very long.
  • NetGalley
    I just found out about this one. Advanced reader copies… but e-books! You fill out your profile, then you browse the available selection and request the ones you want. The publisher decides whether to accept or reject your request. This site is strongly oriented towards book reviewers. It isn’t mandatory to review the books, but some of the publishers won’t even consider you unless you have a book review blog with frequent updates and a number of followers. Not all have those requirements, though.

Hope this is helpful for someone out there! Enjoy the cheap/free books (but save some for me =P)!


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