Updated on 09.08.15

Seven Ways To Get Books For Free (Or Close To It)

Trent Hamm

After reading the summary lists of the 52 Personal Finance Books in 52 Weeks series, some of you out there are probably yearning to pick up a book or two from the list. Or, perhaps you’re just yearning to read something else. Either way, there are a lot of ways to get books for free – or something close to it. Here are the options I use to get stuff to read on the cheap.

The local library The most obvious answer – and still the best. You can get almost any book you wish to read from this place for free. Better yet, you’ll likely find a lot of resources there that you didn’t know about, such as CD and DVD rentals for free. It’s well worth the time to stop there.

PaperBackSwap If you’re willing to spend a dollar or two to mail your own books that you no longer want, you can dive into a giant book swap at PaperBackSwap. As I wrote about in detail in the past, PaperBackSwap is basically a book trading service that operates via the US mail. You go there, list ten books you have, and you get two credits for your time. Spend a credit and you can pick any book listed on there and have it shipped to your house for free. When someone wants a book you have, just ship it to them and you’ll earn another credit. That’s it – easy as pie. Shipping a book in the United States costs a dollar or two, and that’s your only expense.

Trading with friends/borrowing from friends I often lend books to my friends – in fact, I have probably fifteen or twenty books loaned out right now. In exchange, my friends often lend books to me. If you know of an interesting book that your friend has, ask to borrow it – you’ll often find a book you’ll really enjoy reading right in your hands, for free.

Cooperative buying If several people are interested in buying a book, have everyone contribute a dollar or two, buy the book, and pass it around through the group. One big benefit of this is that all of you will read it and thus all of you will be able to discuss it as well. Usually, we all agree to give the book to Goodwill or something when it’s done, or agree to designate someone as the permanent owner. It was because of this that I was able to read several brand new novels while in college.

Used bookstores There are several used bookstores within driving distance of me. While they’re not too good for picking up the latest and greatest book, they are very good for hunting down older ones and also classic literature. If you’re seeking a slightly older book, try giving a ring to a few used bookstores near you and ask if they have it. In fact, I’ve used my local used bookstore to pick up three or four books that I intended to mark up with notes quite heavily – the dollar I paid was well worth the learning I got out of the books.

Project Gutenberg For those unaware, Project Gutenberg is the place to go if you’re looking for free copies of classic literature. Pretty much any classic novel you can imagine is there in its complete text, and there are several different ways to read these books at your convenience, either on your computer or printed off. While this might not be useful for modern books, I am planning on reviewing at least one book that exists in Project Gutenberg in the future.

Gifting I keep up a wishlist on Amazon and add books to it all the time, often so many that I can’t remember what’s on there (and thus I check it each time I finish something new). Many of my family members have the URL for this list and then use it to give me books for gift-giving occasions, as they know few gifts will make me happier than a fresh book I’ve not read. It’s a far better gift to receive a book than just about anything else I can think of under $20.

Hopefully, you can use one or more of these methods to add to your reading in the near future. For me, this is particularly valuable, as I view reading a thought-provoking book to be one of the best uses of time available to a person. Do any readers have additional ideas for how to get books on the cheap?

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  1. What about just sticking with good ole free internet reading? The internet is a wealth of information. I think paper books will probably disappear in the future when everyone fully embraces technology.

    This reminds me…I have not used a pencil or pen in such a long time other than to sign checks.. :)

  2. Kat says:

    I disagree that paper books will disappear. A lot of people are tactical and enjoy curling up in a comfy corner with something real, not a glowing machine that can hurt your eyes. Also they enjoy using pens, pencils, and paint.

    Though I am going to check out Project Gutenberg.

  3. Hi Kat,
    Hmmm.well I think many people under the age of 20 might disagree…it’s all computerized now…digital photos, etc

    I remember taking all of my exams in grad school on a laptop…paper is fading..we are probably still decades away from that fully happening though

  4. Sarah says:

    I’d add Bookmooch as a swap site, and Librivox is attempting to put audiofiles of every book in the public domain online. Both are free.

  5. sir jorge says:

    Shipping a book can get upwards into a lot of money.
    Based on weight, anything over a pound gets really sad.

  6. Michelle says:

    Project Gutenburg also has audiobooks for free in MP3 format. I listen while I do housework.

  7. Jared says:

    @sir jorge:

    If you’re shipping books, you should be shipping them “media mail”, which is extremely cheap.

  8. Jeni says:

    I like to keep books after I read them, and I buy most of my books used on Amazon. A lot of older books can be bought for 1 cent, plus the relatively cheap media mail shipping. Otherwise, I add books to my wishlist, and wait until they are under $3 or so used.

  9. Kat says:

    For exams it makes sense. Having helped grade tests for my mom, not having to decipher handwriting is a great thing.
    Digital photos don’t mean anything with regards to books. All of my photos are digital, but I still print some out to display. Also dare I say, scrapbooking seems to be a pretty big market.
    As far as I know, students still do most of their work in grades k-12 by hand(minus papers). But I will double check with all my teacher friends again.
    And there is something to be said about being able to do something on paper. I would look like an idiot if I couldn’t sketch a design change out in the field on paper.

  10. Henry Bemis says:

    Libraries also have small bookstores tucked away by the front desk. These bookstores offer castoff books at better prices than used bookstores. Great opportunity for voracious readers and online booksellers.

  11. southerngirl says:

    Paperbackswap has seriously changed my life. Far and away it’s the best value I’ve found this year – it’s full of other book lovers so most peoples’ swaps are in really good condition, and it’s nice to meet people via the site, too. The wishlist feature there is my new obsession.

  12. Chuck says:

    I find it economical to buy used books on eBay or Amazon and sell them on eBay after reading. After transaction fees, it might cost me a dollar or two to do it this way, but I figure that it’s very convenient for the book to show up in my mailbox and costs less than the gas I would have spent to drive to and from the library.

  13. Robin says:

    Most libraries offer books for sale at very low prices. These are library books that are being taken out of rotation and donations from citizens. The books cost a quarter for paperback and a dollar for hard back. A bargain!

  14. Laura says:

    I’ve had success with finding cheap reads by scanning the websites that sell “remainders,” the books that never sold at the store. They may not have all the NYT bestsellers, but I’ve found some good coffee-table style architecture books there for $7-10, and those usually run $25-50 retail.

  15. Laura says:

    I’ve had success with finding cheap reads by scanning the websites that sell “remainders,” the books that never sold at the store. They may not have all the NYT bestsellers, but I’ve found some good coffee-table style architecture books there for $7-10, and those usually run $25-50 retail.

    hamiltonbook.com is one example, but I’m sure there are others:

  16. Mike Berry says:

    One way to get more free books than you will ever be able to read is to become a reviewer. More publishers are now willing to send advance reading copies to bloggers who regularly produce reviews. If you become affliated with a network like BlogCritics, they’ll assist you in tracking down publicists and PR reps for review copies.

  17. MVP says:

    FYI, Dave Ramsey has a holiday $10 book sale every season. Any of his books for only $10. That’s a good deal.

    I second Jeni’s suggestion of buying books used on Amazon.com. I’ve gotten many nearly new books for a fraction of their new price.

    Also, not sure if you mentioned it or not, but I’ve heard of a company that offers books for a monthly fee, like Netflix offers DVDs. It’s not free, but you pay a reasonable monthly service fee and get a certain number of books at a time. If you read A LOT, it sounds like a good deal.

  18. Lynoure says:

    For a non-American BookMooch is a nicer online bookswap that PaperBackSwap mentioned above, as BookMooch does not rely on US Postal Service.

  19. Cat says:

    My brother, sister and I did a co-operative buy when the last Harry Potter came out. We pre-ordered ($15 cheaper) and then split the cost three ways – unlike last time when we bought a copy each!

  20. Christine says:

    I’d also recommend http://www.bookcrossing.com
    It’s fun finding a Book Crossing book somewhere.

  21. Kate says:

    Public libraries will often purchase a book if you request that they do so. The policies differ from library to library. My library has a publication date cutoff–if it is older than a few years they won’t purchase it UNLESS it is a classic that they haven’t realized has gone permanently missing.
    Even if they won’t purchase it, most library participate in an interlibrary loan agreement with other libraries. The cost is minimal.

  22. Louise says:

    I’m suprised no one has mentioned op shops (thrift shops). All charity op shops have books and you can pick up some real bargains. It’s easy to get them for as little as 5 cents, and often there are sales where you can get a whole bag of books for $1. Used book stores are a better bet for getting a specific book, but if all you want is some novels for light reading, then there’s plenty to choose from. Sometimes collectible items come up, and some real treasures can crop up. I bought the complete notebooks of Paul Klee (famous artist and founder of the Bauhas Movement) for 50 cents, along with several other rare art books for less than $2 earlier this year. In fact I totted up that I’ve bought around 50 books for myself and friends this year at various op shops, and the most expensive would have been $2. As well as art books, art catalogues and novels I’ve bought books on history, alternative health, eco housing, finance, making your own furniture, fishing and goodness knows what else. Because it’s so cheap I regularly pick up books for friends that I’m pretty sure they would be interested in. At an average price of 20 cents per book this is a luxury I can afford.

    Also look around your community for a book club. I’ve found that you can often start an informal book swapping club at your local neighbourhood centre or senior citizens centre just by mentioning to the co-ordinator that you are interested in swapping books. They will sometimes make available a small bookshelf where you and other people can bring in books you no longer want and take whatever you find on the shelves that interests you.

  23. Debi says:

    Bookmooch.com is worth mentioning again. It works like paperbackswap, but is not limited to paperbacks.

    I’ve given out more books than I’ve received, but that’s OK with me. Bookmooch has several ways to donate your points to worthy entities in need. I like that.

  24. 91030Mom says:

    Here are a few more sites:

    bookcrossing.com (“pay it forward”-type swapping; free and kinda fun)
    bookins.com (book swapping for a small fee)
    dailylit.com (ebooks; some free, some with small fee)
    wowio.com (free ebooks)

  25. Brendan says:

    For Sci-Fi and Fantasy fans, there’s the Baen Free Library:


    full text downloadable in multiple formats (including HTML, RTF, and ebooks)

    Baen also puts old titles out on CD compilations with some of their hardback books and allow the CD content to be freely distributed:


    They don’t believe in restrictive copy protection and I like their author’s enough after reading from their library to buy their new offerings on occasion…



  26. rebecca says:

    Paperbackswap is my favorite used book store. Credits can be bought for a little over 3$, and mailing is included since the shipper pays as part of their deal. I don’t contribute books anymore, (I don’t want to hassle the mailing, although they make it as easy as possible) but when I want to research a subject, say, solar power, I always go there. We have gotten entire series of books by putting them on the wish list as auto-request and keeping our account full of credits. Then they just arrive in the mail! It’s great. They have 1.5 million books on the site.

  27. Heather says:

    I’ve been using the site http://www.half.com for many years and have always had good experiences with them. great prices and great service!

  28. Kay says:

    I agree with Henry, library bookstores are the best. Magazines, sometimes new, 25 cents. Hardback books for $1 or less. Albums, tapes, CDs, dvds, you never know what you’ll find, and your purchase supports your local library as well. My other fav is audio books. You can’t read a computer screen while driving.

  29. reulte says:

    Bookcrossing.com is great; although not a “trading” site (more of a tracking site and it is considered rude to simple ask/demand a book without offering a book in return or without checking the profile to see if they trade.), many of the people do trade. Another way to use Bookcrossing is to “GO HUNTING” . . . where you can check an area close to you and see if someone has wild release a book in the area. Sometimes most of the fun is in the finding of the book, journeling it and leaving it for the next person to find.

    Freecycle is great for boxes of older books, as are yard sales.

    I buy occasional small boxes of books on eBay.

    Libraries – for books, interlibrary loans, DVDs, CDs, VHSs, magazines, audiobooks, a quiet place to sit and information — many librarians know of other internet tradeing sites.

    I am also brazen enough to wander into a bookstore, start reading a book and finish it at the store — these are generally info-lite books (romance, humor, trivia) that don’t require a lot of thought or notetaking. Even I’m not brazen enough to tackle ‘War & Peace’ in a bookstore!

  30. reulte says:

    Oh and by the way — media mail is NOT extremely cheap, however it is usually cheaper than any other rate for mailing books. I have mailed smaller books that were cheaper at the First Class rate because they were so light.

    I believe that media rate is measured in pounds (with the lowest charge being $2.13) while first class is measureed in ounces . . . so a book weighting less than 6 ounces or so may be cheaper to send first class.

    Also, for certain books on religion, mythology, folklore and esoterica an excellent site is sacred-texts.com.

  31. FMROX says:

    I love the library, as well. Not only the checking out of books for free, but also the cheap bookstore that I have often donated books. But I can’t fail to mention swaptree.com. It isn’t just paperbacks. And unless you live near the person you will have to pay a small shipping charge, but it seems worth it.

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