How to save money on buying books – or get them for free – The Guardian

From using your local library and supporting independent bookshops, to borrowing virtually
Many websites offer ebooks and audiobooks at no cost. Project Gutenberg lists more than 67,000 out-of-copyright titles which can be read online or downloaded in a wide range of formats. Similarly, Librivox offers more than 16,000 audiobooks of old titles, read and recorded by volunteers all over the world.
BookBub (bookbub.com) has free and discounted downloads of some recently published books, particularly in categories like romance and thrillers, with regular email alerts about cheap titles in genres you’re interested in.
Ebooks, audiobooks and comics can be borrowed for up to 14 days from the Internet Archive’s vast collection – you need to join OpenLibrary.org for free, and download an encrypted file. Many of the titles available are recently published books from 1,100 libraries all over the world.
If only one copy of the book you want is available, it can only be borrowed for an hour and must be read on a web book reader interface. It is auto-renewed for another hour if you are still reading it.
Your local library may also lend copies of ebooks, comics and audiobooks via your library card and an app, such as OverDrive, Libby or BorrowBox. You can then read your choice on a smartphone, tablet or a compatible e-reader like a Kobo, Nook, PocketBook or Tolino – Kindles are not supported.
The books will disappear from your “shelf” in the app on the day they are due back, so you don’t have to worry about late fees.
Websites such as Netgalley.com and edelweiss.plus offer “readers of influence”, such as book reviewers and bloggers, free access to review ebooks and audiobooks before they are published. These are sometimes referred to in the industry as “advanced reading copies” or ARCs. It’s up to the publisher to approve your request, which it will do based on your biography and your profile on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter and Goodreads.
“Bookstagrammers” and “booktubers” – influencers who post on Instagram and YouTube – are often able to access free books from publishers via these websites.
If you’re prepared to review books on websites such as Amazon or Goodreads, Booksirens lets you request review copies directly from authors, publicists, as well as publishers.
You may also have luck contacting publishers directly or authors who use the hashtag #ARCreaderswanted or #arcreaders on Twitter or Instagram.
Almost 800 libraries have closed in Britain since the government began its austerity drive in 2010. If you want your local library to stay open, use it. Many allow members to borrow 10 to 20 books and audiobooks free of charge.
Buying used is better for the environment and, often, your wallet. If you buy from a charity shop, you are also supporting a good cause.
One of the greatest pleasures of browsing in charity shops is that you never know what you might find. But if you’re looking for a specific book, the Oxfam website sells thousands at bargain prices. For example, at the time of writing, a quick search for bestselling children’s author Jacqueline Wilson revealed 26 books for sale, with some newly released titles for just £1.49 (70% off the RRP).
There are also some excellent bargains in “used books” on Betterworldbooks.com. It donates a book to someone in need for every one sold.
Another option is to hunt down a title via bookcrossing.com. This lists free books that have been released “in the wild” for a stranger to find: search to see whether there’s one listed near you. If you do find it, log on to the website and report it’s been “caught”.
More than 16,000 books are available on bookswap.co.uk. “There are lots of newly published books and books you can’t find anywhere else,” says Triin Vihur, a bookstagrammer (@wordchild) who works part-time as the site’s social media manager.
You first need to list the books you are prepared to send to other users. You then get credits for posting them with a prepaid label (so it costs you nothing) and you can use these credits to request books from a different user. If that user agrees to send you their book, you must hand over your credit and pay £3.85 in postage and swapping fees £2.66 postage and a £1.19 swapping fee to receive the book.
If you have lots of books you want to get rid of, swapping can be fun – and cost efficient. “Often, I find it cheaper to get books on bookswap.co.uk than other secondhand platforms,” says Vihur.
She recommends requesting more than one book at a time from the same user, as you only pay one postage fee no matter how many are in each package.
The carbon footprint of a book swap is lower, and she likes knowing that books she no longer wants are going to someone who is really keen to read them.
It’s a very different experience from buying a secondhand book from an online seller, she says: “It gives a lot of joy.”
Many independent bookshops have struggled to stay afloat during the pandemic and 31 have closed, according to the Booksellers Association. If you don’t have time to physically set foot in the doors, consider supporting them online via bookshop.org.
This website will handle your sale and give any independent bookshop you nominate a 30% commission on the RRP of the book you buy.
“The beauty of it is that the bookshop doesn’t have to touch the order. The book does not come off its shelves, it comes straight from our wholesale partner and is shipped directly to your home,” says UK managing director Nicole Vanderbilt. “The bookshop has none of the costs, hassle and time of packing your order and posting it. So, in addition to giving them an incremental income, we give them a lot of their time back to focus on the part of the job that they love, and are uniquely good at.”
She says most books the site sells have 7% off the RRP and shipping is free if you spend over £40. “We try to give as much value as we can to the bookshop, who often don’t discount, while still making the prospect of buying online from us attractive, instead of from a place like Amazon,” she says.
Second-class shipping – where you get your book in two to three days – is £2.99, irrespective of the size of your order, and first class, which takes one day, is £4.10.
The site has generated more than £2m for independent bookshops since November 2020 with about 500 participating.

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