10 Ways to Save Money on Books

I used to spend thousands of dollars a year on books, most of which I never read. Recently I've begun to trim my book spending. I spent nearly $3000 on books in 2003, but that number dropped to $700 last year. How did I do it? Through self-discipline and some commonsense tricks.

Avoid new releases
New releases sell at a premium. Sometimes you can get them cheap at Costco or Amazon. It's best to avoid them completely. Put them on hold at the library. If you're tempted to buy a newly-released book, ask yourself: “Why do I need to own this now? Can I wait?”

Read reviews
Reviews help separate the wheat from the chaff. It's a terrible feeling to spend $25 on a book only to discover it's awful. Amazon is an excellent source for reader opinion. I also like Metacritic and The New Yorker. Find a source that you trust, and rely upon it to screen books.

Find the classics online
Most of the literary canon is in the Public Domain. There are thousands of freely-available texts for download at Project Gutenberg. One excellent way to read the classics is through Daily Lit, a service that gives you bite-sized chunks of books in your inbox.

Search for bargains
I look to buy books cheap at garage sales, thrift stores, and library book sales. If you're patient and have a general idea of what you want, you can build a fantastic library for cheap. Don't forget: if you find a nice stash at a garage sale, you can negotiate for a better price.

Make Amazon your all-purpose book tool
Though I buy some books from Amazon, I mainly use the site as a reference. I'm able to check reviews, prices, and related works. For many books, I can preview the first few pages. I can check release dates. My top use for Amazon is to compile a “reading list”. Whenever I spot a book that might be interesting, I add it to my Amazon list. About once a month, I go through this list and put the books on hold at the library…

Frequent your public library
This is the cornerstone to my system. The true revolution came when I discovered my library's web site. Referencing my Amazon wish list, I place books on hold. When they're ready, I stop after work to pick up a batch. I keep those books out for what seems like forever. My library system lets me renew for nearly six months! I believe that every smart, frugal person should make active use of her public libary.

Explore used book stores
Not all used booksellers are created equal. Scour your neighborhood to find the good ones. Some are stocked with romance novels and children's books. That's fine for some people, but I like a used bookstore with a diverse inventory. My wife has introduced me to the joys of the Edward R. Hamilton catalog. We just placed an order yesterday. Had we purchased these same books on Amazon, we would have spent over more than twice as much. (If you're willing to buy used through Amazon, you can find many common books for only a buck or two.)

Harness the power of the internet
There are many book-related resources online. Over the past few weeks, readers have e-mailed to share resources such as:

  • TitleTrader lets you swap books, DVDs, and CDs. The site offers a points-based system for requests.
  • PaperBackSwap allows members to swap books my mail. For each book you send (paying postage), you earn credit to receive a book.
  • Bookins is similar to the first two services, except that it reverses the payment structure. You only pay to receive books. Shipping books is free. Why is this a big deal? If you have too many books and want to purge your library, you can post your list and then gradually get rid of your overstock at no cost.
  • BookSwim promises to be like Netflix for books. It's nearing launch.

Audible is an expensive but useful option, especially if you enjoy listening to books on your iPod (as I do).

Buy only what you intend to read
This may seem obvious, but it's taken me a long time to learn. I tend to want to own any book of interest. This is a huge money sink if the books remain unread. One approach is to only buy new books after you've read those last purchased. I'm not to this point yet, but I'm much better than I used to be.

Share
Pass books around to family and friends. Ask to borrow theirs. Create an informal book exchange among your social network. This is an excellent way to stretch the value of a dollar.

 

Eighteen months ago, I purged a large portion of my personal library. At that time I wrote:

We have many bookcases with many shelves. To be precise, we have eighty-five bookshelves of about thirty inches each. That's approximately 2550 inches of books, or about 213 feet. That's a hell of a lot of books.

A recent change in my mental outlook has allowed me to realize that I don't need to possess as many books as I once did. It used to be that I felt the urge to own any book that looked remotely interesting. No longer. Nowadays I'm more interested in purchasing high-quality copies of books that I already love or want to treasure.

Spurred by Live Simple, I've scoured our bookshelves in an attempt to free space. To do this, I deliberately shut off my sentimental faculties. If it's not a book that I want to re-read or to keep as reference then I set it aside to purge. I've purged hundreds of books. (This sounds impressive, but really it only freed about twelve shelves of space. I still have seventy-three shelves filled with books.)

Since then, I've purged even more books. More impressively, I've reduced the flow of books into the house. I still have a large library, but at least now my book spending is under control.

More about...Books, Frugality

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brad
brad
13 years ago

Another tip: let other people buy books for you. Share your Amazon wish list with your friends and family (J.D., you could even share it here on your blog; it would provide a tangible way for people to express their gratitude for all the work you do on this site). I have three siblings and a stepmother, and we all share our Amazon wishlists for holiday and birthday shopping. I receive a big salvo of books every December from my family, and it takes me months to read them all. Consequently I end up buying very few books myself.

Melsky
Melsky
13 years ago

I purged my books from having thousands to having around 200. Those books have been in storage for a couple of years while we are living in Toronto. We have only about 20 books up here and I get a lot of them from the library every week. I don’t miss having that many books, though I love books and I always will. Now I look at them as something to read and return to the library or give away unless they are hard to replace. I read between four and five hundred books a year and if I kept… Read more »

Dan
Dan
13 years ago

Instead of using an Amazon Wish List for that, you should check out mybomo, a web app built for tracking things like the books you want to read. All the books on it are synced up to Amazon, so you can still use it the same way you’re using your wishlist, except it gives you a cleaner interface and more control (such as the ability to tag books with categories or mark which ones you’re currently reading). http://www.mybomo.com

Christian Pöcher
Christian Pöcher
13 years ago

While buying used books at amazon is often quite cheap already, you should also check the other internet shops to save another few bucks, because the selling of books through amazon is quite expensive. One way is to check the list of sellers, who often have a name like www_buybooks_com, and then check their website, which should be easy to find. Often they have the same book cheaper if you buy on their website. Another way is to use the links from http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/How_to_find_a_book and check the price comparison sites or the sellers directly. And if you speak some other languages,… Read more »

agnes
agnes
13 years ago

You can also use Interlibrary Loan services through your local library to borrow books your library does not own.

Travis
Travis
13 years ago

You can also buy and sell books on http://www.half.com

This is where I go to get bargains and unload old books.

Thomas Bosch
Thomas Bosch
13 years ago

Plus don’t forget Bookcrossing ( http://www.bookcrossing.com ). You can catch and release books which is a nice way to receive new books and get rid of old ones.

Jag Nogg
Jag Nogg
13 years ago

I am attempting to spend $0 for books this year, even though I am an avid reader. My method is simple – I’m simply going to read the books that I already own, but haven’t read yet for one reason or another. If I encounter a book that I haven’t read, but don’t want to read, then I’m going to attempt to sell it.

Dominic
Dominic
13 years ago

Question your own ethics on this one, but a $20 PDA from Ebay and access to BitTorrent or Newgroups means that, theoretically, you never need to buy a book again.

Martin
Martin
13 years ago

There are some great hints to buying good cheap used books in this post. But living in NYC presents with a problem. The number of used book stores in the city is minimal. Barnes & Noble has driven them all out of business. The only viable option is The Strand, which I frequent regularly. If you buy used books online you usually find yourself paying more for shipping than the book itself.

rich
rich
13 years ago

For a website which preaches reducing complexity and clutter, Live Simple sure has an… *interesting* design.

H. Wren
H. Wren
13 years ago

“Buy only what you intend to read”

This is my real problem, and something I need to work on. A lot of the books I buy are those that it would be nice to have, and then I find that I can’t really get into reading them. So I have a lot of half-read books laying around.

Dennis
Dennis
13 years ago

I use my local library and http://www.bookmooch.com to get most of my books.

The Reviewer
The Reviewer
13 years ago

You can use Wish Radar http://wishradar.com/ which takes your amazon wishlist and has prices set for each item, and if the price goes below your set price, it emails you, it checks amazon, half and amazon marketplace right now.

Aimee
Aimee
13 years ago

Great list, I love books too and spend far too much on them. My problem is that I love to revisit books, so I feel like I have to own them. Luckily the library is a great way to check things out first… it’s just too bad ours isn’t a lot bigger and diverse.

brix11
brix11
13 years ago

I discovered free public-domain audio books at:

http://librivox.org/

I listened to Huck Finn and Leaves of Grass on my iPod, making the homework for my graduate class on American books a little easier.

William Mize
William Mize
13 years ago

“Books are not trophies” is my new mantra.

That, and I’m limiting myself to whatever books will fit on my ONE bookshelf. Five shelves, 36 inches each shelf, 180 inches of books. If a book can make it there, that’s like being on Park Place or Boardwalk.

Ethan
Ethan
13 years ago

Goodwill (at least in Portland) has a pretty amazing selection – and well organized. I have not used Goodwillbooks.com but if it is anything like the instore selection, it is bound to impress.

Bobby
Bobby
13 years ago

Sounds like this is a “problem” a lot of people deal with. My main source of books now is the library. I request they purchase books they currently don’t have, which in most instances has led to ILLs (inter-library loans).

Unfortunately my closest branch is not that large but I have had few problems getting whatt I want. I can renew online so I avoid late fees.

All around, almost no cost to me (unless I want the book for myself) for the books I want to read. My budget really likes this feature.

Canadian
Canadian
13 years ago

I agree with most of your advice. I am a big library user and I frequently suggest books to them which they almost always purchase for the collection. In cases where the book is out of print, I usually get it by Interlibrary Loan. I am trying to only buy books that I know in advance I will like and will reread. So for example, I will buy a book that I have already read (borrowed from the library) and know that I will want to reread multiple times. Usually this is a reference or how-to book, but sometimes a… Read more »

Andy
Andy
13 years ago

I live in one county and work in another, which allows me to belong to both library systems. This is a great way to up the chances of a book being available. There are very few books I can’t find now, and those few I can’t just go on my reading list for a later date.

LeisureGuy
LeisureGuy
13 years ago

Good tips. I use Abebooks.com extensively, but only after checking my local library’s on-line catalog. As a matter of course, they will normally have purchased any book that is getting lots of reviews and publicity. In my blog, when I create a book link, it’s to the Abebooks.com list for that book, sorted by price.

mjh
mjh
13 years ago

I’m lucky enough to work part time in my local second-hand bookstore, Browsers (http://www.flickr.com/photos/mojohealy/tags/browsers/). I love working there so much that I’ve kept the job even when I’ve had another full-time job. One of the reasons is my 40% discount- which comes off prices which are very low already. Another is that I can pile up books in the store room. I then either buy them, read them at work (have I mentioned how much I love this job?), or decide I don’t actually want them. Though I’m a student right now, I imagine always having a few shifts at… Read more »

Trent
Trent
13 years ago

JD, you disappoint me! You failed to mention Book Burro, the single greatest plugin ever made for Firefox (if you’re a book addict like I am, anyway). It auto-compares costs of books at other sites when you visit individual book pages at Amazon using a little floating window in the upper right. Fantastic!

JenK
JenK
13 years ago

For books we no longer love: Whenever we have a party I look through our shelves and see if there are books we do not intend to re-read or that we don’t need to reference. These go in the hallway for friends to peruse. We usually give quite a few this way. Others to go the local Half-Priced Books, Third Place Books, or are released with a http://www.bookcrossing.com tag inside…. New books: I married a man who had almost as many books as I did – we only had 4 books in common! So ever since I’ve been discovering all… Read more »

Dustin
Dustin
13 years ago

What I do is use Amazon for research, like you said, and then search bestwebbuys.com/books for the lowest price. What this does is searches the prices at all the top online shops and compares them (new/used including s/h and tax). Then I go to that site and make my purchase. This is how I never paid more than $150 per term in college.

tolak
tolak
13 years ago

A tangential point perhaps: choose your reading spot carefully. I used to go to Borders to browse and ended up spending $10 on coffee and pastries for a day of reading “for free”.

brad
brad
13 years ago

Aimee wrote “My problem is that I love to revisit books, so I feel like I have to own them.” I used to feel that way too, but a few years ago I took stock of all the books I had set aside for rereading and it became clear that I would never in fact reread most of them. So now I follow the same kind of strategy I use for clothes — if I haven’t used an item of clothing in the past year, it’s history. Same for books: if I haven’t reread a book in the last year… Read more »

Steve
Steve
13 years ago

I use a search robot to compare all the major books seller’s new and used prices at once, while simultaneously checking ebay. The search robot I prefer is http://www.campusi.com simply because it allows me to do the same with DVD’s and CD’s and it has a rare/old book engine.

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

One reader IMed me to point out the LibraryLookup bookmarlet generator. I can’t get it to work with my library’s system — I’ll give it a better try later.

Gwyn
Gwyn
13 years ago

Use the library. That is all I have to say.

mike
mike
13 years ago

Has anybody tried this site http://www.whatsonmybookshelf.com/index.php

It’s a pay the postage and trade book place.
It’s based on a point system.

Beth
Beth
13 years ago

Yay for all the library comments! I fifth the ILL reccommendation. Take the time to actually go visit your local library’s ILL staff, show an interest in how the system works, ask how long it typically takes to get material in, and also how long the new-release waiting period is in your cooperative region (typically one year – this helps you avoid unneccessarily making requests that can’t be filled, and saves work for the ILL staff, which they will appreciate). Bring brownies. Also: remember the Friends of the Library bookshelf/bookstore. Setups vary from library to library, but range from free… Read more »

Yan
Yan
13 years ago

It is funny I was just writing about price comparison websites in the books niche. These are the money saving tools in case you DO need to buy a book:

http://www.ugenie.com
http://www.booksprice.com
http://www.comparebook.com

Check out my complete article at
http://probargainhunter.com/2007/01/15/compare-book-prices-web20-approach-poll/

I personally get most of my reading online (media & blogs) or in the public library

Damon
Damon
13 years ago

Two quick things: The advice about new releases isn’t entirely true. I find most times that a new release is discounted heavily to move initial product, and it is often the last time you’ll see the first editions at a discount. Secondly, if you’re going to purge your collections, don’t forget your local library. And not just the one in your city, many little towns out there have struggling, fledgling little libraries that could use a boost. It may cost you shipping or a days outing to get to them, but they’ll be plenty grateful and you’ll be putting a… Read more »

Emily
Emily
13 years ago

There is a fantastic, fantastic non-profit in Baltimore called The Book Thing. It is located in a small warehouse, and the premise is simple: All books inside are free. You can take as many as you want and they’re yours. Donations of books are always accepted, and surprisingly they’re always overflowing with new incoming books. It is an amazing place.

Baltimore also has something called the Free Store, and it works on the same principle except with all sorts of stuff. I haven’t attended it, so I don’t know the quality of items they have.

Tom
Tom
13 years ago

My library card is one of the most used cards in my wallet.

Penelope Trunk
Penelope Trunk
13 years ago

Swaptree.com is a new company launching specifically to let people trade books. I haven’t used the service (in beta) but I interviewed the CEO and it sounds really cool. Lots of bells and whistles.

Kevin
Kevin
13 years ago

I went to school with the guy who started PaperBackSwap.com. It actually started as a school project. Pretty cool. Go Berry College! 🙂

Emily H.
Emily H.
13 years ago

FYI for those who want books on obscure subjects or in obscure languages: ILL is great, but it’s also worth checking out if the university libraries in your area will let you pay for membership. My Japanese study means that I want to get my hands on a LOT of Japanese books; lately, I’ve mostly been getting them through the local university for only $25 a year. If your library system is poor, check the nearby library systems; sometimes they’ll let you join for an annual fee. I’m a librarian, and a surprising number of our patrons come from out… Read more »

Greg C
Greg C
13 years ago

I have a small online book store that is profitable. I have no real wholesale connections. I just buy books (other stores closeouts,going out of business sales, amazon marketplace,etc) and resell them.

That should tell you that it is possible to buy books for much lower than retail ( I sell for average of 50% off retail and I buy for 1/4-1/3 my selling price).

Matt_In_Tx
Matt_In_Tx
13 years ago

Project Gutenberg has an RSS feed available that is updated daily to let you know the newest releases of their public domain books.

Kat
Kat
13 years ago

There’s WishlistBuddy.com where you can set a price notifier for new or used books (and any other Amazon product) and it will e-mail you when the book is available at that price or lower. Like WishRadar.

Also, don’t bother with those bookstore memberships. For example, the Barnes & Noble membership costs you $25 a year for 10% off books. Now, $25 = 10% of $250, so you have to spend over $250 in one year at B&N just to make back your membership fee – you don’t actually start saving money until after that!

Canadian
Canadian
13 years ago

Here is a funny little decision tree “Should I buy this book?”: http://www.powerofchange.org/blog/2006/10/should_i_buy_this_book.html

J.D.
J.D.
13 years ago

Here’s another site I just discovered: Read Print. It’s nothing revolutionary, but may be useful for some. It essentially takes public domain books (read: classics) and posts them online in a clean, attractive fashion. With Google Ads! (Clever ploy, actually, and something I’ve thought of doing myself.)

john
john
13 years ago

My name is John and I used to be a bookaholic. I was cured once I started selling my books on Amazon (see http://www.johnsjottings.com/archives/2004/10/26/selling_books.html) and realized how much money I had been spending on books I was only skimming once. Nothing like sellings books for 90% off to open your eyes.

So that’s one tip. The other would be don’t buy books at airports. Huge markup.

Allie
Allie
13 years ago

I am re-reader. I re-read and re-read my favorite books all the time. I always check stuff out at the library first unless I am asking for it for Christmas or birthday. If I am going to buy it myself, I make sure I like it before I buy it. This post and all the comments inspired me to sign up for paperbackswap.com. I spent less than $10 to send 5 books out and I ordered a book for my husband that, to him, is worth at least 3 times that, plus two more for me… Pretty good deal (provided… Read more »

Donna Brown
Donna Brown
13 years ago

I love books and I want to own them. So I buy my books from Books a Million or BAMM (www.bamm.com) Free shipping over $25, all the latest in all subjects, plus games, magazines, reference, gifty items, etc. They are always 30% off usually more and then they have the Bargain Section!!!! I’ve bought from them for years.Plus their millionaire card is $25 and you get an additional 10% off every order. Love them…

BxCapricorn
BxCapricorn
13 years ago

Read e-books. Most titles you read in HS and College are public domain, although they are still published for profit. The e-Reader software for the Palm is free. There is an e-Reader Pro that you can pay to upgrade to. I’ve never done this since the e-reader is all I’ve needed. Find free e-books at: http://www.manybooks.net http://www.e-book.com http://www.stockton.lib.ca.us http://www.free-ebooks.net http://www.ereader.com http://www.user.pa.net In 1998 the Modern Library, a division of Random House, New York, released a list of “the 100 best novels written in the English language and published since 1900.” The list sparked an instant comeback for some of the… Read more »

Self-Described Book Addict
Self-Described Book Addict
13 years ago

For library books,

Library Lookup

Long term solution, buy books from Indie bookstores and stop making the big stores profit and driving out the diverse voices.

Good luck!

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