1. Use the libraryIf you’ve got an idea of the book you want to read the library is a great way to enjoy that book without spending a penny. When you see a book that you think you might like to read, make your first port of call the local library and if they’ve got the book in stock you’re laughing. Simply make one little trip with your library card and voila! You have your book for free. Many libraries hold their library catalogue online so it’s becoming increasingly easy to search for the book you’ve got in mind, and some libraries even invite you to suggest books for them to add to their catalogue. If they get enough people wanting a book they’ll add it to their stock so it’s always worth asking if you can’t find it.
In UK now it’s fairly easy to join a library and there aren’t restrictions on you living in the area in order to use the library’s services. For me this is great as I work in Manchester but live in Lancashire, so I use both library services – if one hasn’t got the book I want the other might have so this increases the likelihood of accessing that must read book for free. And in a time when libraries are threatened with closure due to council budget cuts, increasing the use of the library makes it more secure so you’re doing a public service too.
And if you’re not sure what book you want to read the library is great too. It’s like a giant bookshop you can walk around and browse for as long as you like, but without you being tempted to buy something. Libraries also offer additional services like internet access and you can borrow music and DVDs too. It’s all good.
In terms of saving you money whilst giving you access to books the library is the best option. Just avoid the late return fines and you’re laughing.
2. Mine your friendsThe great thing about having friends is being able to borrow their books. Okay, well maybe that’s not the greatest thing about having friends but it is an excellent extra benefit particularly if you share a love of books. Okay, your friends might not necessarily read the same types of books that you read, but you’d be surprised what people have in their libraries and trying something new is always good. So if in doubt, ask. I love lending books to my friends (providing they return them, of course).
3. SwapSwapping is something you can do for free with your friends (see 2. above) or there are now websites which provide a book swapping service. It’s not a free process (although the websites themselves are generally free) but the cost of your book is usually limited to the cost of postage. This means that you can swap books fairly cheaply providing you can find someone on the site willing to swap with you.
The website I use is Read It Swap It which is a UK only swap site. Registration is free and the website is easy to use and intuitive. You simply log the books you are willing to swap into your ‘library’ (using the book’s ISBN number) and then you can browse the library and request swaps from other people. Setting up a wish list makes it easier for other people to see the kinds of books you’re looking for and once you’ve started swapping your fellow swappees will rate you on a star system out of 5 to let other read it swap it members know you’re a trustworthy swapper.
Another book swapping site I’ve heard about is Book Mooch. Book Mooch is an international site so has the advantage of carrying a larger selection of books, but works on a slightly different basis than Read it Swap it in that you earn ‘mooch points’ by sending your books to people and you use those points to ‘buy’ books from others. I haven’t used Book Mooch so I can’t say if it’s any good, but it is a well established site and looking at the reviews on the Which magazine site it sounds fairly good.
A word of advice when deciding which books you want to give away, the smaller/thinner/lighter the book is, the less it will cost in postage. If you’ve got a copy of War & Peace you don’t want in your collection, I wouldn’t recommend posting it for swapping as the postage cost alone will make it a much more expensive proposition.
4. Buy secondhandIf you have to resort to buying the book you want then it’s always worthwhile shopping around for a secondhand copy. Although the secondhand bookshop is a dying breed if you haven’t got a secondhand bookshop nearby it’s worth checking out the local charity shops as they will usually carry a stock of books. Oxfam is particularly good and in some places (for example Preston and Lancaster) they will have a dedicated Oxfam bookshop. I’ve found some real jewels in secondhand shops and prices are generally around £2.99 - £3.99 for most books.
Online offers additional options for secondhand books. Amazon marketplace enables the sale of secondhand books, as does www.abebooks.co.uk and www.alibris.com. It’s always worth checking out the marketplace options, but it’s worth checking the seller ratings on there if you want to avoid a bad experience. I’m a fan of Abe Books, and have used Amazon extensively for book buying (my desire for books overrides my philosophical doubts on that one!).
5. E-readersI’ve put this one last as when weighing up the value of e-readers you need to really factor in the cost of buying the device in the first place. But if you have a device already, or you really, really want one or even if you’ve just got access to a PC then electronic versions of books can be a really cheap way of getting hold of the books you want.
If a book is outside copyright then the likelihood is, unless it’s something very obscure, there will be an electronic version available for free somewhere online. Project Gutenberg is one such organisation who have made electronic versions of classic books extensively available for free and e-books are available to anyone with a PC or any device which can read pdf files. Other websites such as www.online-literature.com may make texts available to read online.
A word to the wise about downloading novels which are translated, often the freely available version will not be the best translation available and if you want the best reading experience then e-books might not be the best solution for these types of novels, but anything written in your native language, whilst not pretty, is likely to be sound and it’s worth checking them out if you’re happy reading books on screen rather than paper. It’s not really for me, but I know many people who are very happy with their e-reading devices and the availability of free, classic books is a big benefit of ownership.