I read a lot.
Or, I read a lot now.
I read day and night as a kid. As a teen. But in college my time became absorbed by textbooks and term papers. After college I found myself lost in some sort of television black hole that lasted into my early adulthood, punctuated only occasionally by books. And then I had kids. With two young kids I didn’t have the time to brush my teeth, let alone read.
But I’ve always been a writer. Which means that I’ve also always been a reader. I just took a little (very unfortunate) hiatus for awhile.
These days my oldest has finally hit preschooler age and a few months ago my youngest finally started sleeping through the night (more often than not), so I actually have time to read books.
What I don’t have, tho, is an endless budget to spend on books.
So I’ve found ways of working around my budget. Getting my reading high on the cheap.
Now, I prefer paper books to electronic books, but I’m including tips for both, because I do read both, I just prefer the weight and texture of paper in my hands and thus opt for that whenever I can. So that’s where we begin…
1. Your Local Library
This may seem like a given: borrow books for free, right? Well, not really. I rarely borrow books.
I like to own mine. (I figure it’s a fairly healthy addiction.)
Luckily for me, libraries sell books, too.
My local library actually has an entire small room dedicated to books for sale, all ranging in price from 10 cents to $2, with a few rare exceptions priced higher (I found the hardcover box set of The Millennium Trilogy at my library).
Plus, twice a year, the library has a huge book sale which includes a limited time special of fill-a-bag-for-$5.
A bag stuffed full of hard covered book for a few bucks? Hard to beat that.
Plus, all the proceeds go to funding programs at the library that foster the love of reading in the community, like the story time I take my kids to every week. That’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned.
2. Chain Bookstores
Trouble occurs when I step inside a Barnes & Noble. Seriously. Unless I was to go in there with no cash or credit cards… but that never happens.
Anyway, I’ve learned that one of the ways to avoid disaster (and an empty bank account) is to stick to the bargain section. They actually have a rather expansive bargain section. And that makes me happy. Borders used to have this, too, but they’re gone now.
But if you’re more interested in eBooks or shopping online, Barnes & Noble also offer a large selection of discounted books on their website.
Their bargain section includes categories like “books under $5” and “up to 85% off.” There are quite a few bestsellers under $10 and even under $5.
Other large bookstores also offer discounts like these. I’ve also picked up a bunch of $3 books at Books a Million, who also have a bargain section on their website with books as low as $1.97.
3. Indie Bookstores
I’m a big advocate on shopping local, so I love local, indie bookstores.
If you don’t know of any where you live, you can do an online search with “bookstores [your zip or town].”
And although local mom-and-pop stores are the only places I’m willing to spend a little more money on something I know I can get cheaper somewhere else, these are also great places to score cheap books.
One of the reasons for this is that many small bookstores carry used books and will allow you to exchange your used books for cash or credit.
A bookstore near me also offers the generous option of giving you an extra 40% for your books if you opt for store credit instead of cash. And since you know you’re just going to buy more books anyway…
4. Thrift Stores
Thrift stores always seem to have shelves of books available.
And sometimes the books available are best sellers that are still going for at or near retail price elsewhere. Of course, you won’t pay that: I just drove by a thrift store yesterday that had a sign out front stating, “books 50 cents.”
So, thrift stores are worth a look. Especially because so many of them benefit charities. That way you’re not just scoring cheap books, you’re also helping people.
You can search for thrift store locations online, or call up local churches and charities to ask if they have one.
Yes, Amazon.com sells many books at a discounted price, and yes, I buy many books there because I like to read the reviews and utilize the handy “wish list,” but the main reason I’m bringing it up is to let people know (or to remind them) that Amazon also has a very large selection of free books.
That’s right: free. They’re eBooks, of course, but so many people have tablets nowadays that eBooks make sense for a lot of us.
Many of the free books they offer happen to be classics whose copyrights have expired, but if you love Poe, Twain, Dickens, or Verne, you’ll want to check out their free ebooks by clicking here.
And if you are an Amazon Prime member, you’ll have access to their free Lending Library which allows you to “borrow” a book for free each month. Plus, the Lending Library offers a lot more than just Twain and Dickens: they have over 500,000 titles, including New York Times bestsellers.
But – if you’re like me and prefer paper books – you also have the option of buying used books from Amazon. You can find many listed for only a penny plus shipping and so come out to around $4.
6. Gutenberg Project
Project Gutenberg is a website with over 45,000 free eBooks.
It gives you the option of reading them in a variety of formats, such as an HTML or Kindle version, with or without images, and in English, Portuguese, Dutch, or French.
It’s an ambitious project, founded by Michael Hart and begun in 1971.
The selections of books include (as per their site):
Light Literature; such as Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, Peter Pan, Aesop’s Fables, etc.
Heavy Literature; such as the Bible or other religious documents, Shakespeare, Moby Dick, Paradise Lost, etc.
References; such as Roget’s Thesaurus, almanacs, and a set of encyclopedia, dictionaries, etc.
In other words, there are a ton of awesome books available, but I only read books from here occasionally. If you’re looking for some light, mind-dump type reading, you may want to consider one of my other suggestions.
There are a few websites out there that advertise free books, but I like Free-eBooks.
The reason I recommend it is partly because there are a lot of newer and mainstream books available here but also because it’s easier to search. I’m big on user-friendly.
There are Spanish and Portuguese options for the eBooks, and the site also offers an extensive list of free Business, Computer, Engineering and Trade magazines.
There are two types of accounts: free and VIP.
Free membership allows you download 5 eBooks for free each month. VIP gives you unlimited access, mobile formats, priority service, and exclusive titles. One of the VIP options is a lifetime membership, which is a pretty awesome deal, but there’s also a month-to-month option if you wanted to try it out first. But the free membership works if you don’t have the time right now for more than 5 books a month.
I also have to bring up their wide variety of categories, which include everything from drama to business and mystery to self-improvement, but also because I find it infinitely amusing that the Top 10 “most popular” lists often include multiple erotica titles.
The site has a ton of eBooks that were submitted by lesser known authors and, while I love this, I love even more that I can preview the books. I don’t want to download something (even a free something) if it means I’m going to have to drag myself through a massive storm of grammatical errors.
Luckily, the blurb usually tells you all you need to know in terms of whether or not the writing style of the book is something you’ll like, and a page or two of a preview is usually enough to tell me if I want to actually invest my time in reading it.
That said, I highly recommend Free-eBooks. Their wide range of books and authors makes them well worth a visit.
8. Dollar Stores
I darn near forgot to include this one – shame on me!
I get a huge amount of craft supplies for my kiddos at The Dollar Tree, and I often pick up small board books or coloring and activity books for them when I’m there, too.
But they also have books for adults. Sometimes the pickings are slim and sometimes you have to dig through the not-as-appealing books people tossed in front of the actual novels written by New York Times bestselling authors, but they’re there.
Of course, much like large chain bookstores, these discounted books are likely to be the first in a series and the publisher is trying to hook you on buying more books. But this isn’t always the case.
Okay, that about wraps things up, except for my nifty graphic:
And please, please, please, if you have any suggestions to add about where you get free or cheap books, let us know in the comment section!
Happy Reading :)