How To Buy Books Cheaply Without Sacrificing Your Values

The city I currently call home is Berlin, in the heart of Western Europe and far from the English-speaking shores of the USA. The toughest part of expat life thus far has been the truly shocking prices I pay for English-language books. After all, I'm a bibliophile on a budget, and these days I can't afford the luxury of walking into any bookstore and buying whatever literary treasure strikes my fancy.

The big e-commerce elephant in the room is probably apparent to everyone: there's always Amazon. I won't lie to you — there are times that I turn to the online Goliath for a specific tome, but then I find myself shivering towards a shame spiral, wishing I had supported my local store. Like you, the bookstore is a sacred place for me, and I believe in the magic of carefully stocked, well-loved shelves and employees who save space for readings, love giving recommendations, allow for endless browsing, and cultivate a community of like-minded book-lovers. I'm simply not willing to let the local bookstore go the way of the dodo because of the Internet, but that choice puts me in quite the economic bind.

So, I've come up with a solutions for sourcing great books on the cheap without sacrificing the moral high-ground, no matter where in the world you find yourself shopping.

Do Your Homework

Like so many of us, I have a favorite local bookstore — the armchairs are comfy, the bookshelves are bursting, and they serve absolutely bangin' bagels and cream cheese. Unfortunately, sometimes when I'm on the hunt for a specific title, the price at my local haunt is just too high, and it feels like the only option is to engage in a little e-commerce. Not so! With exceptional online services like Indiebound or Bookweb, you can find out which bookstores near you are stocking the title you're searching for at the click of a button, and do a little price comparison from the comfort of your couch. You may be surprised at just how much you can save with a little research at the outset.

Support The Competition

I'm a bit of an economics buff (I know, I know, the more you learn about me, the cooler I seem), and I believe in the power of economic competition. I'm not particularly keen to return to the days of the oligarchs, and certain online bookstores are getting just a bit too powerful for my taste. So, when I absolutely have to shop online (there's a story about a blizzard and a deadline that springs to mind) I try to support Amazon's competition and strengthen the forces of literary good online.

So, if you too find yourself in need of a quick delivery of a few great books, why not try alternative online choices like BetterWorldBooks, Biblio, or Half Price Books? The prices are right and you'll have no trouble sleeping at night after a great read courtesy of an independent, online shop.

Share And Share Alike

I'm a voracious borrower and an eager lender — perhaps it was those early days spent at the local library, or maybe it's my relentless nosiness that drives me to snoop the shelves of friends... who can say. What I do know for sure is that swapping books is one of the greatest ways to obtain a new title on the cheap; however, unless your friends are operating some sort of professional operation, you may soon exhaust your local options. That's where online book-swapping services come in.

Online book swapping services like BookMooch and PaperBackSwap provide an online marketplace where you can offer up unwanted books to obtain credits that you can then use to "buy" titles you're dying to read without any outlay of cold hard, cash. Getting the books you want without spending any of your hard earned money? Now that's what I call priceless.

Go Old School In The Digital Age

No matter how right the price, nothing beats free when it comes to a new book. When you're looking for a title that's hot off the presses, free can be hard to come by, but if you're searching for an older novel and you're willing to forgo the tactile pleasures of an actual, physical copy, the odds of finding that book online absolutely free of charge are very much in your favor.

Thanks to Project Gutenberg, literary titles in the public domain have been digitized and made available for your reading pleasure cost-free. Hop over to Project Gutenberg and search by title or author. Once you find what you're looking for you can download the file as an ebook if you have an e-reader, or simply read it as a PDF on another device. I've saved more than $300, which has gone a long way. Long live literature in the public domain, and here's to boning up on the classics when you're feeling broke and hungry for story.

Sign Up for Subscription Service

Whether you're a Netflix devotee (guilty as charged) or not, chances are you've checked out one of the new entertainment subscription services popping up across the Internet. What you may not have known is that similar subscription services are also available to meet your more literary needs.

If you love your e-reader but aren't ready to commit to sending all of your income to Amazon, why not consider a service like scribed Scribd — for $8.99 a month you'll have unlimited access to the entire Scribd catalogue, including unusual academic titles that can be extremely pricey to access in any other way. There's also Oyster, a similar service with a huge selection.

If you still prefer your paperbacks in the form of physical objects (once again, very much guilty as charged) BooksFree.Com offers monthly plans that allow you to choose from any of the 250,000 titles in their catalogue and have the books shipped straight to your home free of charge. When you've finished with the books on loan, slip them straight into the envelope provided in and in just a few days your next selections will arrive by post.

Whether you're looking for something old, something new, something borrowed, or (for whatever reason) something blue, no matter where you are the literary world is your oyster and you don't have to sacrifice your values to obtain the books you're longing for at prices you can live with.

Image: Arwen Aberstern - KWP, bill_comstock, S Jones, baddogwhiskas, Evil Erin/Flickr