If you’re looking to declutter your home and simplify your life, if you’re like me, one of the hardest areas to deal with is books: getting rid of old ones and cutting back on the expense of buying new ones.
But there are plenty of ways to get free or cheap books, and for the true fan of simplicity, these are the only ways to go.
First, let’s address the issue of getting rid of books: you gotta let go. I know, it’s difficult. It’s like getting rid of your children. But as the father of six children, I can tell you, sometimes it’s better with fewer of them in the house. (I’m kidding! About the children. Not the books.)
The question to ask yourself is this: “Why do I want to keep this book?” If you’re really going to read it again, keep it. I have a couple dozen books I truly love and really do plan on reading again, once I’ve forgotten the details.
But often books are kept almost like trophies or mounted animal heads — they show how much we’ve read, and the big books we’ve tackled, and how smart we are. Be honest with yourself — you’re never going to read most of those books again. You have too many ahead of you to tackle.
Get rid of them.
What follows are some of the best ways to get rid of your books, and to get more great ones for very little.
This is one of the best ways to regularly get free books. Of course, you can do it for free with friends, family members, classmates, neighbors — I regularly swap books with people I know. But when you really want to get books you really want, online bookswapping services rock. They’re not free, as you usually have to pay for shipping, but they’re close.
- Bookmooch. One of the more popular of the online bookswapping services. Give away books to get credits, and use those credits to get other books you find online. Pretty good selection. It’s a free service, although you pay the price of shipping the books you give away.
- PaperBackSwap. Pretty much the same deal as Bookmooch — give away books to get credit, use credits to get other books. You pay for shipping (typically $2.13, according to the site). More than 1.3 million books available. No membership fee at this time.
- Readers United. Again, get credits for giving away books, use them to get other books. Free service, but you pay for shipping to give others your books.
- FrugalReader. Another book trading service. Update: this one doesn’t seem to be working as of 2012.
- Title Trader. This takes the same concepts as the other book swapping services above and extends them to not only books, but CDs and DVDs.
- Bookins. Same kind of book swapping service, but with a $3.99 fee per book you receive. You don’t pay for shipping books out, however.
- WhatsOnMyBookshelf. Book swapping service … receive points for listing books and sending them, use them to get books from others. You pay for shipping books to others.
- Novel Action. Update: this one doesn’t seem to be working as of 2012.
- ReadItSwapIt. This is for readers in the UK — again, give away and get books, just pay for shipping them to others. It doesn’t use a credit system like the others, and you are free not to send a book that’s requested by others. Free service.
Similar to book swapping, bookhopping is a way to exchange books over the Internet. Basically, you list the books on your shelf, and agree to ship any of your books when they’re requested. In exchange, you can request any books you like. No points are earned or exchanged.
- BookCrossing. An extremely unique system, it’s more like karma for books. A very basic explanation: read a book, label it with a unique book number, and then leave it somewhere. Anywhere. You can leave it in a coffeeshop, with a friend, on a park bench (“releasing it into the wild”). There are designated book crossing spots all over the world, but they’re not required. If someone picks up your book, by chance, they write a little review of it online, and you can read all the reviews of the particular book you “released into the wild”. Now, you can also look at book crossing spots in your area to see what books have been left there, and go pick it up if you want. Interestingly, there’s a map that shows where books are “released” or “caught” all over the world — in real time. Fascinating. It’s definitely a must-see.
- America’s BookShelf. List your books online, and when one is requested, you’ll receive a postage-paid envelope in the mail — just drop it in the mailbox. To get books, you’ll need to buy book credits. Also charges a $12 annual membership fee ($1 a month).
- BookHopper. Works very similar to book swapping sites, but it’s slightly different. First, you list books that you’re willing to ship to people, and when they’re requested, you ship them (at your cost). You can also request anyone’s books. The more books you list, the more you can request. There’s no credits, but there’s a sort of karma system that incorporates how many books you list, how many you send, and the feedback you leave for others.
Really free books
- Library. The classic method, and it’s totally free. If you haven’t been to your local library recently, I’d recommend you give it a try. Many of them are surprisingly great.
- Friends, family, neighbors, classmates. Set up a little exchange with people you know. It can be a formal book club, or just set up a place to leave books, and when you’re done reading a book, leave it and take another. Get creative — no shipping costs are involved, so you can exchange great books for free.
- Free ebooks. If you don’t mind reading books on the computer, you can get thousands for free. There are a lot of sites for free ebooks, but a couple of the more popular include Project Gutenberg and Free-ebooks.net.
- BooksFree. It’s like NetFlix, but for books. Fairly low monthly membership fee, and you can check out multiple books at the same time. When you’re done, send them back (you don’t pay for shipping) and get the next ones on your list. No late fees. Lowest price is $9.99 for 2 books at a time; plans go up to 12 at a time.
- Zunafish. This is a trading site for anything, really. Not only books, but CDs, DVDs, games, computer stuff, anything. Just list the stuff you want to trade, and people will make trade offers. If you see an offer you like, agree to it, and then you each ship the stuff to each other. No membership fee, but there’s a $1 per transaction fee.
- Thrift shops. I make a regular trip to a couple of charity thrift shops (help a good cause and get books for only cents), as well as a very cheap used book store — I give them my used books for credits, and then pay only a couple of dollars for a couple dozen used books.
- Swapbooks. Despite its title, it’s really a way for students to sell used textbooks and buy them for cheap.
- half.com. A branch of eBay, half.com is a way to sell your used books and to get some good deals on other used books.
- LibraryThing. Well, this isn’t really a way to get free or cheap books (hence it’s not counted in the “20 Ways”) but I would be remiss if I talked about all these book services and didn’t include LibraryThing. What it is: simply a way to list your books online, and allow others to see what books you’re reading, and to see what others are reading. A cool tool.