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The Five Best Ways to Get Books for Free or Cheap

Updated on February 22, 2010

1. Online Bookswaps

Many websites on the Internet now enable people to post which books they don't want/need anymore, and list the books they would like to read. How the system usually works is that you get credit for sending other people books (you pay for shipping), and in return, you build up credit to receive free books. On some sites, though, you pay for the book donor's shipping to receive books, but you can ship out as many books as you want, free of charge.

This can be a great way to participate in an active, book-loving community, as well as get book suggestions from others. Bookswappers are generally very loyal to the specific site they use, and get a great deal of enjoyment out of using it.

In general, the only problem I have with these sites is that the shipping you pay might be more than the cost of the book, depending on the actual book. Paying $4.00 to receive a battered copy of an 80's romance novel is probably more than it's worth, but if you can find recent books and bestsellers on there, I say go for it.

Be wary of membership fees you may have to pay annually to use the website's service, and make sure you understand the procedure for dealing with a shipper who either doesn't deliver his or her book. Some sites have better problem-solving functions than others. Twigghugger reviews the Bookins site, as well as provides several useful pieces of advice for clearing out your own book clutter.

You can find some fascinating old books at your local used bookstore
You can find some fascinating old books at your local used bookstore
Older paperbacks are the most common type of book at used bookstores
Older paperbacks are the most common type of book at used bookstores

2. Used Bookstores

Many stores that sell preowned copies of books will also buy your used books from you. They don't pay much, but usually if you offer 3-4 decent books up to them, it's enough to pay for 2-3 new books from that shop.

Since people bring in new material everyday, you never know what you'll find when you come in the store. One of my favorite things to do at used bookstores is visit the old books section. Every once in a while, people bring in really old books their older relatives gave them long before. I've seen a fairytale book copyrighted 1908 at a Half Price Bookstore, which is fascinating to sit down and read.

The most well known chain is Half Price Books, who advertise that they sell paperback bestsellers at half of retail prices. In addition, if you're a teacher or librarian, you can get a further 10% discount.

The advantage of these bookstores over bookswaps is that there are no shipping costs or waiting. Half Price Books bookstores are located all over the United States, so it's a convenient way to quickly trade in your unwanted books for new ones.

3. EBooks

Some authors are able to cut almost all their overhead publishing costs by offering you their books for a much reduced rate. The downside is that few published authors take this route. Why should they, if they know you're willing to pay for a normal, more expensive book? The result is that most ebooks you can find online will usually be of lower quality than published books.

The most popular ebooks site is, naturally, However, be sure to comparison shop when you're looking for ebooks. When I compared their prices to's prices for the physical version of the same books (I checked five books this way), the Amazon results were all no more than a couple dollars higher, if not the same price.

The wave of the future as far as reading digital copies of books is said to resemble the Kindle, made by Amazon. Unlike what is offered on or similar sites, prices for Kindle versions of the books are significantly cheaper than their physical counterparts. Yet you can't share Kindle books with friends, you have to worry about the Kindle running out of charge, and the phrase "curl up with a good Kindle" just doesn't sound right.

Yet electronics makers keep pushing ebooks, even though it prevents a book owner from later reselling their purchased book. Is this fair? Perhaps if the digital book version is significantly cheaper than a physical copy. Give me books for $2 to $3, and I'll start reading ebooks regularly. Even with the Kindle, however, we're not to that point yet.

Finding Free Books and Ebooks by KickAssDeals

Don't overlook your local library as a great source of books
Don't overlook your local library as a great source of books

4. Local Library

Since I'm in college, my library is the university one, but most people will use their city's library to borrow books. While it's certainly true that the bigger the library, the more likely it is you'll find what you want, just because your library doesn't have it doesn't mean you can't get it.

  • Some communities have intra-city agreements, where your card will work at several surrounding cities.
  • Many libraries offer a program where if you need a book, they will get it for you (by borrowing from another library) within a week.
  • Tell the library what you want! They exist to please the community, so let them know what they're lacking, and they will do their best to help.
  • Write out how much you think you would save by being able to get all the books you wanted from the library, and compare that to the cost of an out-of-city card at largest, most often updated library in your area. Is it worth the extra price?

Every library has different policies; check with them to make sure you're not missing out on valuable opportunities. Libraries are especially good for reference materials, in which you only need access to a small portion of the text, and books you only plan to read once, as in books for academic assignments.

5. The Classics

Copyrights on published books, though they seem to last forever, actually can last no longer than 50-70 years from the author's death. While that's still a long time, it opens up free access to any book you might want to read that was written more than, say, 150 years ago. That is to say- the classics.

A good list to start you out is at, which has works as recent as Alice in Wonderland to Uncle Tom's Cabin to War and Peace. Lists like these are a great way to become well-read without spending any money at all.

Of course, you can also find all major religious works, as well as important government documents online. Don't pay for what you can legally find in the public domain!

A great list of works that have been banned over the centuries has been compiled as part of the Free Speech Online Blue Ribbon Campaign. If you want to do your part to fight censorship, read one of these banned books and remember to appreciate the freedoms we have today!


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    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 6 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      Comprehensive article that covers all the bases--great info!

    • psp-downloads profile image

      psp-downloads 9 years ago

      Wow! These are some excellent tips on getting cheap books. I am addicted to reading, so these resources will definitely come in handy. Thanks!

    • jdnyc profile image

      JR 9 years ago from California

      Excellet hub! The book swap sites are also something I haven't heard of, and they sound interesting!

      And I think the library is the best source for most books - who can match free?

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 9 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Great HUB! I never heard of the book swap sites. I'll have to look into that as I have just too many books.

      Thanks for the great information regards Zsuzsy