Summertime reads: How to get cheap or free books

I have always been a big reader. Maybe it's the fact that I'm introverted — so introverted, in fact, that I almost lost my fourth grade reading challenge.

  • First, you had to go up to the teacher and tell her that you'd read something.

  • Second, after you told her, she gave you a big sticker and you had to go up to your name on the wall in the cafeteria — in front of everyone! — and put the sticker by your name. No way, Jose!

When my teacher contacted my mom and said that she was worried I wasn't reading enough, my mom burst out laughing.

By the time I was in middle school, I had graduated to the grown-ups' section of the library. In the summer, when we didn't have access to our school libraries, my mom, sister and I used to go and check out the maximum number of books each (I think it was five apiece) from the public library. I'd read all 15 before we went back two weeks later.

In other words, all my life it's been a challenge to keep me in books. As a result, I have also always been on the lookout for sources of cheap or free reading material — especially during long, lazy summers. Here are three dealers sources I've found that don't require you to dip into your online high-yield savings account to quench your thirst!

1. The public library

First we'll go with the gimme mentioned above: your public library. The library is an especially great place to discover books you wouldn't have read otherwise. After I found the science fiction section in middle school, I started picking authors at random. A couple of tips:

  • You can spend the afternoon in the library, which gives you time to read a bit of a new book to see if it hooks you before checking it out.

  • Once you find an author or book you like, see which authors are providing the reviews on the cover/dust jacket/front matter. That can give you ideas for whom to try next.

Other library resources

Most libraries these days offer an online selection that you can “check out” and download onto an e-reader from the comfort of your own home. You can also download audio books. And anything you check out automatically deletes itself when your time is up, so you don't have to worry about late fees. If you are far away from your library — or it's been 110+ degrees where you live (ahem) — then this is pure luxury.

For those who don't have e-readers or who enjoy spending time at the library in person, many libraries have a store where they sell books they don't plan to keep. They're usually insanely cheap to begin with too, and even go on sale whenever the library curates its collection.

Some library downsides

The library does have some downsides, though. First, you don't get to select which books they have, though lots of libraries have focus groups or steering committees if you want to get involved in the decision-making process. Second, if you have popular tastes in books, there can be long waits for the books you want, which can be quite frustrating.

2. Online libraries

In addition to regular public libraries, there are a number of online libraries that allow you to check out e-books. If you've got an e-reader or tablet, this may be a great option for you. Online libraries include:

Some online library downsides

Most of the free online libraries only carry books whose copyright protections have expired (because those works are in the public domain and can be used for free, without obtaining special permission). This means that most so-called “classic works” are in the public domain.

On the one hand, this means that some of the most highly-regarded works in human history are also the most readily available. However, if your taste runs more toward the current New York Times Bestseller List, you'll likely have to either join a pay/subscription service, like Amazon, or get on the waiting list at your local library.

And of course, online libraries deal in e-books, so you need to have access to an e-reader and a reliable Internet connection to get in the game at all. While e-books can be cost-effective, there is an initial outlay in terms of equipment. Additionally, some people prefer the look and feel of actual books.

3. Used bookstores

For “real” book fans, a used bookstore is a great source of reading material. While cheap isn't the same as free, if you're a slow reader (or you're just busy) and can't guarantee you'll finish a book within a library's two-week checkout period, buying books used may be easier. Alternatively, if you're a collector and know you'll reread something, then it makes sense to buy used if you can. There are other benefits to used bookstores:

  • Used bookstores are often overstocked with bestsellers, since lots of people buy them even though they never intend to keep them. Many times you can get recent hardbacks at paperback prices.

  • Lots of used bookstores offer trade credit for books you bring in. So purge your shelves and, while the store employees determine what they'll take, you can browse their shelves. I have so much trade credit at my local store that I haven't paid for a book there in years.

Some used bookstore downsides

First, as mentioned above, these books are cheap, not free. Even if you have trade credit, buying books also means that you have to find room for them in your house. If you are an acquisitive type, you may end up buying books you won't read, just because they are available.

Second, because used bookstores rely on people bringing in books, there is no way to guarantee that what you want will be available. And because many times they don't track their inventory, there's no waiting list like there is at the library. It's first-come, first-served.

Finally, they only accept books in trade if they believe they can sell them. If they are overstocked on what you bring in, they might not offer you anything, in which case you're stuck with your original stuff as well as whatever you found while your potential trades were being evaluated.

What's your favorite genre? I'm a sci-fi/fantasy girl myself. But I can't imagine a better way to get the books you need to read for your personal finance journey.

Are you a reader? How do you get your book fix for free or on the cheap? Let us know in the comments below!

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Beth
Beth
5 years ago

Our local libraries are fantastic. I don’t mind waiting for a popular book or movie — many of us PF aficionados are good at delaying gratification. A few other suggestions: – Swap books with a friend. (Or have a book swapping party) – Shop local thrift stores. (The used bookstores in my area have closed down, but thrift shops like the Salvation Army have filled in the gap) – Buy used books online (through Amazon and other sites) – For parents, try local parenting/buy-and-sell Facebook groups. – If you live near your alma mater, see if you can get a… Read more »

Mrs. Crackin' the Whip
Mrs. Crackin' the Whip
5 years ago

I am a huge fan of the library. If the library doesn’t have it, I don’t read it.

lmoot
lmoot
5 years ago

I agree. We have at least 10 (probably more) libraries in my county that I have access to. I have no reason to purchase a book, at least not for leisure reading. I’ve been getting into audio books at work an during commutes since I don’t have time to read, so I’m glad that my libraries have great selections. And they still have plenty of CD’s and physical books, which is great since I don’t use an MP3 or e-reader. I actually quite enjoy putting off the reading of a popular book (I rarely even bother to sign up for… Read more »

sarah
sarah
5 years ago

scribd is one of the online libraries. It’s like 9 dollars a month and they have a surprisingly large number of books I am interested in reading. I am in the same boat, as I read quickly and constantly, and so far this is the best option I’ve found. Booksfree, which is like old-school Netflix for paperbacks, is also pretty good.

kirsten
kirsten
5 years ago

Bookbub is my favorite way to get cheap ebooks. They send an email every day with the cheapest deals on ebooks. I don’t think I’ve paid more than $2.99 for a book in over a year.

akoilady1
akoilady1
5 years ago

I won’t mention the name of the BEST bookstore ever for taking in your used books and letting you buy used books. (because I think we aren’t supposed to mention retailers here) It’s an independent store in Portland OR and when you visit the store you need a map to navigate around the store–no kidding! And there are new and used books available. Now, I live on the other side of the country (I get to visit the store when visiting my daughter), and discovered that it is super easy to sell your books back to this store–or, like me,… Read more »

Ali @ Anything You Want
Ali @ Anything You Want
5 years ago

My favorite book source is the public library, hands down. My library has everything I’ve ever thought to request, thanks to a relationship with other area libraries that pool resources. Sometimes there is a wait, but I find that if I request several books that interest me there is almost always something good waiting for me!

Eric S
Eric S
5 years ago

Abebooks.com works well for me when I want a physical book and don’t mind it used (sometimes reference material needs to be up to date) or a little older. They have great discounts on used and sometimes new books, and often free or reduced shipping. The books seem like they come from brick and mortar used bookstores all over the country, so you’re supporting the little guys.

They are especially great for thinks like travel books where you use it once and don’t want to spend a ton.

Dave
Dave
5 years ago

I’m not positive but I’m pretty sure than kindle unlimited cost about 10$ a month even for Prime customers. Unless they have changed something this was not included in my prime subscription.

Absu
Absu
5 years ago

Kindle Unlimited isn’t free with Prime. It still costs the regular sub fee. Amazon Prime includes one free book rental a month of a certain selection.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
5 years ago
Reply to  Absu

Thanks for clarifying! The Amazon website is really unclear on this, which makes me think the service isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Chris
Chris
5 years ago
Reply to  Honey Smith

Happy to read this. My favorite place has always been the library since i was a little girl. If i had to pay for books I would be broke for sure. I get so excited when I head to the library and come out with some great reads. We can also take out 3 at a time for Kindle reading, sometimes older selections but not bad. I tried both Sribd and Kindle Unlimited (10 a month) even with prime, and Scribd definetly has better reads however neither have a lot of prime authors. I did a few months of both… Read more »

Sarah
Sarah
5 years ago

If my library doesn’t carry a book I want to read, they have an interlibrary loan program that will pull from a large network of libraries. So far, I’ve gotten everything I have requested. They come from libraries all over the US.

Also, I still use paperbackswap.com. You pay the postage to send books to others and build credits. Then you can request books and that are mailed to you. This year they added a small cost for processing (.49). More here http://www.paperbackswap.com/help/help_index.php

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman
5 years ago
Reply to  Sarah

Always ask for an interlibrary loan! A lot of people don’t know this option exists. Another option: If the book you want isn’t there, ask the library to purchase it. The budget might actually allow this. Watch for those “friends of the library” book sales. The one in Seattle was gigantic and even here in Anchorage there’s a pretty decent-sized one. Frugal hack: Go on the last day and you might get one of those “everything you can fit in this bag for $5” deals. On the lower level of the Anchorage library is a “free books” setup and I’ve… Read more »

Another Beth
Another Beth
5 years ago
Reply to  Donna Freedman

The only downside (and it is minor!) to waiting for the last day of a “Friends of” sale at the library is the selection may be picked over. But if you’re not picky and just want to put a few new books on your shelf while also supporting your local library, then it’s definitely worth a look.

Louisa
Louisa
5 years ago

Little Free Libraries are more and more common in neighborhoods all over the world. No card needed. Take one, leave one, or just take one if you don’t have a book to leave. Check out littlefreelibrary.org

PB
PB
5 years ago

Don’t forget interlibrary loan. If your library doesn’t have the book you want, it will borrow the book for you from another library!

Laura
Laura
5 years ago

Kindle Unlimited is not included with Amazon Prime. Prime includes something called the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library which lets you borrow one at a time from a more limited list. It may have a limit per month also; I’m not sure.

PamelaD
PamelaD
5 years ago

I’m a subscriber to Kindle Buffet and BookBub for acquiring free/bargain e-books via Amazon.com. Their daily postings have prompted me to add over 2000 books to my e-library over the past couple years. Will I ever read them all? Doubtful!

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
5 years ago

This article was by me, not Linda. Sorry for the confusion!

I actually got a bunch of free books at my regional Comicon this year, the publisher’s booth had a stack they were constantly replenishing. Score!

Richard
Richard
5 years ago

I sometimes get books from http://bookmooch.com/. It’s an online book swap site.

Juli
Juli
5 years ago

I have a Nook. Every so often I will go and search for free books, and there are always a bunch out there that I haven’t read. If you like cheesy romance novels (I admit, I’m a romance junkie!) then you will find a ton of them for free. I could probably never download another book in my life and I would still not run out of new things to read, since I have a lot on there already, but I still like to look for the new freebies sometimes.

Jess
Jess
5 years ago

After living in my current city for nearly five years, I FINALLY got a library card last fall (after printing the application and losing it in my purse about 4 times!). I love that my library is part of a larger network, so they can request copies from other locations. They also have an online portal where I can request books, renew virtually, and browse authors, keywords, titles, collections, etc. I love used bookstores for inspiration. I rarely leave without spending money, unfortunately, but I always have good intentions for the books that I buy! I also used Paperback Swap… Read more »

SandyGrace1945
SandyGrace1945
5 years ago

You can’t beat BookBub!! Everyday, they send me an email with free books, and other dirt cheap books for my Kindle.
Sandy

Lola
Lola
5 years ago

Our library has the option of requesting that they buy a particular book. There is no guarantee that they will, but if they do take your suggestion, you are the first to be able to check it out. I am also a fan of the library sales (not free but oh-so-cheap) and have checked out ebooks both from the library and the kindle lending library. Our county library charges a small fee for interlibrary loan but I haven’t really had the need to use it. If you have a public university in your town, you may be able to use… Read more »

Carol
Carol
5 years ago

I get the free books from bookbub.com, then I first see if the books offered for a small fee are available at the library first. Bookbub sends new offers daily! It’s like Christmas in my email everyday! If the library does not have the book available, then I can read the reviews on the book (they switch you over to Amazon.com or iBooks so you can see the reviews automatically) to decide if I want to pay the very low fee for the book. I LOVE BOOKBUB!!!!

Woodstock
Woodstock
5 years ago

I am a big fan of Oyster Books. I find that I read way more books than I did when I was buying each one I wanted to read.

Pat
Pat
5 years ago

I like to look through the local Salvation Army or thrift store. There’s usually a giant selection and often they have a lot of best-sellers. You probably won’t get a specific book that you are looking for, but it’s a nice way to browse particular topics.

stellamarina
stellamarina
5 years ago

Just wanted to add on that libraries are wonderful for free reading of magazines too. Every time I stand in the checkout at the supermarket, the magazines look tempting but I know I can save my money by reading them at the library.

Carla
Carla
5 years ago

Our county library is one of the best I’ve ever been a member of. I’ve never had a problem locating a book there. If they don’t have the title, I can request an inter library transfer. There have been times where they purchased title supply request. It may take several months, but they will do their best. I like the idea Little Free Libraries, but I’ve rarely seen anything I want to read. Maybe one day I will find something! I’ve reduce my book collection significantly over the past few years. I do keep the classics, antique books, reference books,… Read more »

Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances
Alexandra @ Real Simple Finances
5 years ago

I love inter-library loan options. My library is pretty good at getting me things I request very quickly — sometimes for more academic books I have to go through one of the colleges I teach at in order to get the request approved.

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