Find books for cheap or free reads

If you love to read, you know the cost of books can really add up. A tempting new hardback can run $25 or more. It’s a small price to pay for hours of enjoyment — and sometimes, years of memories, a new skill or a new perspective on life. But when times are tight, books are an area where you can trim costs.

Not so cheap

As a writer myself, with writer friends, I find the idea of not supporting authors to be really sad. And yet, in the interest of both money and decluttering, I know all too well that books take up a lot of room — and very few get read again, even for a household of avid readers like ours.

Books are collectible, you say? Perhaps a signed first edition. But my grandmother died with a house full of thousands of books — many of them collected intentionally — and more than 500 are still in my garage, listed online for sale but unsold. And we kept only the best.

I also like to support my wonderful local bookstore. Unfortunately, the nature of expanding information means they very frequently don’t have the title I want — so supporting them means planning ahead and having them order the title, which they happily do.

As a solution, I buy books of friends, and I often buy and have autographed a copy of a book when I attend an author’s reading. This isn’t a huge expenditure; I attend a reading every year or so, sometimes a few times a year. These books are special to me. If a book is not so special (like the reading where the author acted put upon to be there, insulted our city, and then the book wasn’t even good), I resell it.


New books are available at a discount on (where, for instance, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day costs $16.77 instead of the cover price of $27.95). Discounts on bestsellers and classics are available at Barnes & Noble online (where AAA members save an additional 5% and get free shipping) and Borders.

Used books are available online aplenty, and they add the benefit of re-use to that of saving money.

Used books on Amazon are even cheaper than new ones (usually¬† — but do double check). And Alibris and ABEBooks have millions of used books, from inexpensive paperbacks to valuable collectibles — including textbooks. Do a search online and you’ll find services comparing prices for the book you need. Be sure to check shipping costs for the total cost to receive a book.


Thrift stores typically have a motherlode of books. In our area, prices range from 50 cents for children’s paperbacks to $10 for special volumes. On a half-price day, those prices are cut in half. Also, stores now assign their colored stickers to books, too, and those tags are featured on sale for half off on certain days.

During garage sale season, books can be found even cheaper — sometimes 10 cents each or whatever you can bargain the seller down to. Face it — they’re just glad to get those dusty tomes out of the basement, so your gain is their gain.

Local used book exchanges can be a great deal. My grandfather, who is far cheaper than I, made a science out of getting cheap reads when he and my grandmother traveled the country in their fifth-wheel trailer. He would take a grocery sack of paperbacks to a used bookstore in any location and trade them the sack for a sack full of different books. Grandma didn’t get to pick and choose what she read — but she had a plentiful supply to carry her to their next stop, without cluttering up their tiny portable living space.

Online book swaps serve the same function, but you do get to pick and choose. currently has over 3 million books available; has some 500,000 and has ways to share books with charity. The books themselves are free: You list what you have to give away, and then you earn points to claim others’ books. The only cost is postage for shipping. Use the U.S. Postal Service’s “media mail” option to save significantly on shipping costs, although transit will take a bit longer.

Free books

If you like the idea of book swapping with a “random acts of kindness” angle, a nod to “Where’s George,” and a dash of geocaching, check out On this site, you give your book a tracking number, “release” it somewhere in your community, and note on the site where you left it. Other participants can “catch” the book, log it at the site, read it and pass it on.

Many communities have places where books are available for free. Check your work lunchroom, your local coffee shop, sushi restaurant or bar for a discreet stash of books. You can read while you sit, and in some places, you can take a book, leave a book.

Have similar-minded friends over for brunch and a book swap. Everyone can bring books they no longer want and go home with a few good reads, prescreened by friends.

The library is, of course, the queen of free reads (well, funded by your tax dollars). If your library’s collection leaves something to be desired, learn your way around Interlibrary Loan. Even in rural areas with small libraries, readers can access the world’s collections this way.

And I just found this great service — if you’ve always wanted to read War and Peace, but you just never found the room on your nightstand, you can now do so, one day at a time. will deliver a manageable chunk of a book to your e-mail every day. In just 663 installments, you’ll be done with War and Peace — and you can read it guilt- and back-pain free on your smart phone while waiting for the kids at soccer, or have it arrive for a fast pick-me-up at work in the afternoon.

What have I missed?

What are your secrets for finding great values on books?

4 thoughts on “Find books for cheap or free reads

  1. Tragic Sandwich says:

    Cheapest of all? The public library. You only pay for late fees (which are easier than ever to avoid, now that so many renewal services are available online), and the books only temporarily take up shelf space.

  2. Lan says:

    I do like bookmooch a lot, and have picked up some great books that way. But be forewarned: even though the cost of postage isn’t exorbitant, it does add up (as I recently discovered; ouch!) and for a girl who does most of her “book shopping” via the library, that stings a touch.

    On the plus side, I’ve distributed some books via bookmooch that I despaired of anyone being interested in and as I packed ’em up to ship out, I was really happy to know they were going to someone who was really excited to receive. There’s definitely a good-vibe component that goes beyond the mere cost to something like bookmooch.

  3. erin says:

    I hope that you are an Amazon affiliate. With that program, if anyone clicks from your website and ends up buying a book – you get a small amount of money.

    I am all about the library. I also love Powell’s. You can now upload your ISBN number on your computer and they will send you postage paid packing to mail books to them (if you are not lucky enough to live in Portland). You get more money if you take a Powell’s gift card. It is like recycling…old books into new books. I wonder if you should try that with the books in your garage?

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