Used books can satisfy your need for a tangible product that is environmentally friendly and cheap. Even with e-book readers in virtually every household and with printed books deemed endangered species many times over, printed books are thriving.
There is a kind of magic to the printed word that is difficult, if not impossible to replicate on a screen. Printed books remain as expensive as ever but you don’t need to break the bank. You can buy cheap used or overstock books online and have them shipped right to your doorstep.
How to find cheap books?
Cheap books are everywhere but looking through all the sites can be quite overwhelming.
What you can do instead is focus your search in one place and then branch out to find the best deals on the books you want.
The search for your next book can be quite overwhelming so you may find it better to start by figuring out what the book is going to be, see the reviews and only then look for where to buy it.
My favorite place to start is Goodreads one of the largest sites dedicated to book readers and book recommendations. The site has over 90 million reviews with 2.6 billion books in the catalog.
What is Goodreads About?
Goodreads is primarily a community with a focus on books and as such, I found that the reviews are of better quality than you’ll find at most stores or commerce sites. Because of that, there are lots of community features such as groups, forums, quotes and lists.
I also like it for keeping lists, you can mark books as you’re browsing by clicking “Want to Read”. The mobile app comes in really handy for saving books when you’re not by a computer. It even has a feature to scan books from your library using the mobile phone’s camera, which in my experience works just ok (You do also have the option to scan by bar code instead of the title which seems to work better).
If you already know the book you are looking for you can skip this section although I would still recommend creating a Goodreads account later.
How to Sign Up for Goodreads
- Create an account so you can start getting book recommendations and also save your favorites. You can create a new account using your email or using your existing Amazon or Facebook account. Note that registering with Amazon will later allow you to automatically pull in your book purchases.
2. You will be asked to add friends so you can get recommendations based on what they have read or rated. Goodreads can pull friends from Gmail, Facebook, Twitter and you can also find them on Goodreads directly. You can skip this part though and have the option to do that later.
3. Set a goal for the number of books to read, and Goodreads will help you track your progress. You can skip this unless this is something you struggle with.
4. Rate books you’ve read. This will help with the recommendations you get. It’s also where you can pull in your Amazon purchases to make this easier if you use Amazon for books. You can also browse or search for the titles you have read and rate them accordingly the recommended number of ratings is 20 so the personal suggestion engine can make appropriate suggestions.
5. Get recommendations for your next book. You will now be able to get recommendations for your next read. Each book detail page will also show a “Stores” button that allows you to see where the book is available and go directly to that store.
Search for the Best Deal on a Specific Book
Looking up a Book on Goodreads
If you already know the book you are looking for you can use the Goodreads’ “Stores” button to see which bookstores carry the book. That is in addition to Amazon, which has its own separate button.
Best Online Bookstores for Buying Cheap Books
These are some of the best sites to order cheap books and to browse around. Careful now, because you can get lost for hours doing just that.
Thrift books originated as a reseller on Amazon.com. From there it grew into multiple physical warehouses and eventually into its own site and app. They work with various vendors to recycle books that would otherwise end up in the landfill.
What can you find at Thriftbooks?
Thriftbooks claims to have over 13 million titles available. You will find all standard genres including a special category dedicated to collectibles. There are tens of thousands of first editions, signed books, and vintage editions.
Most books, however, are used and definitely cheap as you would expect from thrift books.
Thriftbooks Shopping Experience
The Thriftbooks site is clear and easy to navigate, with simple and unobtrusive user interface making the shopping experience easy and rewarding. Text on the site is easy to read with, an eye-pleasing layout, controls and font sizes. There are reviews with a label indicating verified purchases. Shipping is free in the US for orders over $10.
Founded in 1996 AbeBooks is a marketplace and a reseller of new and used books from sellers in over 50 countries. The site focuses on books but there is also art and collectibles section for other items. As of 2008 the site is part of Amazon but remains an independent vendor.
What can you find on AbeBooks?
AbeBooks focus seems to be on search, which is great but mainly if you know what you are looking for. You can also start looking at used books and curated collections. It’s a different experience one you might enjoy when in the mood for guided exploration but there is also a more in-depth category index you can use that is somewhat hidden away, which may seem more familiar and comfortable to some.
AbeBooks Shopping Experience
The navigation is not immediately intuitive but if you spend a few minutes you should get comfortable with its rather unusual interface and structure. The browsing experience is far from ideal and the controls are clunky but there is a feeling of an adventure as you dig through the endless list of titles. Seller reviews are present as are book reviews pulled in from Goodreads, which is a great resource for researching books. There are lots of cheap books to find and shipping is usually free within the US.
Half Price Books
Half Price Books specializes in selling new and used books but also sells music, movies, games, and collectibles. In addition to the online presence, Half Price Books also has over 120 physical locations across the US.
What can you find at Half Price Books?
The site is focused around books but you can also purchase music, movies and various gifts like t-shirts and coffee mugs. Books are categorized by popular categories but there is also a full category index. Textbooks are a bit tricky to browse only after a search you can narrow it down to a “department” such as “Business/Economics” or “History – General History”.
Half Price Books Shopping Experience
Half Price Books is easy to navigate and intuitive as you would expect from a larger chain. On the book detail page, you will be shows the used and new prices but it’s worth exploring the “Shop Marketplace” button to find even cheaper alternatives for third-party sellers.
Another interesting feature is browsing for bargains by price or what Half Price Books calls “Superbuys”. You get to pick books under $10, $5, $4, $3, and under $2. You can arrive at the same results through the search by setting the filter to “Less than $2”. Note that standard shipping for books is $3.99. As is the case with many of the other resellers there are no book reviews and only a seller rating is provided.
The site focuses on cheap books sourced from publisher overstock. There are no third party resellers but the prices are still excellent and as low as 10% of the original list price. Many of the books featured in the Book Outlet are considered “Scratch & Dent” that simply means minor cosmetic damage or with a missing dust jacket.
What can you find at the Book Outlet?
There are lots of to pick from, with some interesting categories including “Scratch & Dent”, “Book-To-Screen Adaptations”, “Recently Published” and so on. There is also a whole section dedicated to clearance books.
Book Outlet Shopping Experience
Book Outlet is a very user-friendly site. The categories are easily found and abundant, they also have a loyalty program that translates purchases or other actions such as referrals into point awards that can eventually be redeemed for monetary rewards on the site.
The product pages are clear with simple pricing and free shipping is offered on orders over $35. For all other orders, a flat $5 rate will ship anywhere in the US. Once again book reviews are not available so hopefully, you have done your research prior to visiting the site.
BetterWorldBooks was created with the purpose of gathering unwanted used books and reselling them with a portion of the profit set to fund libraries and literacy. The bookstore also matches each online purchase with a book donation.
What can you find at the BetterWorldBooks?
On the website, you will find all the standard categories as well as the Bargain Bin with savings on used books and a Clearance Sale section that rewards you for purchasing multiple books at a time. There are also some really good deals on textbooks and even some physical (on a cd) audiobooks.
BetterWorldBooks Shopping Experience
The site is easy to browse with clear categories and book descriptions are also easy to read. There are no reviews of neither the books nor the sellers. Shipping is free from locations in US and the UK.
What can you find at Amazon?
No online bookstore list could be complete without Amazon, one of the pioneers of online book sales and e-commerce that has been selling books online since the 90s. Amazon has an enormous inventory of books in stock as well as a 3rd party reseller offers. You can jump directly to the Amazon book section here (affiliate link, click through it to support this site!).
Amazon Shopping Experience
While browsing through the huge inventory is not always easy on Amazon, the site does offer really good search and filter features to refine the list of results. Every book is shown with different mediums and several buying choices. Make sure to check out all the buying options to find the best deal.
The check out process and shipping speed are second to none especially if you are an Amazon Prime member.
Other Places Online to Find Cheap Books
BigWords is a comparison shopping engine that specializes in books and textbooks. The site will search several of the online bookstores to find you the best prices.
BigWords has some interesting features, it links up with eCampus.com where you can rent textbooks. It also shows a “sell” price and links to sites that will buy the book from you. You can also set price alerts once you create an account.
Booko.us is a search engine for new and used books, the site aggregates pricing from online bookstores and earns money through affiliate commissions from some of the purchase links.
Search will occasionally show several nearly duplicate choices for a single title making the results cumbersome to sift through. The historical price graph on the product page is a neat feature showing historical pricing for both new and used editions.
BookFinder is a book search engine created in the 90s that searches books from over 150 million listings. The number of search results Book Finder produces can be impressive but the lack of information contained in the result list makes not as useful as it could be. Note that as of 2005 BookFinder is owned by AbeBooks, which in turn is owned by Amazon.
You can search by ISBN, title, author as well as other additional filters such as binding, currency, shipping destination, first editions, signed books and so on.
Classifieds sites such as Craigslist, Offerup, and Letgo are also places you can find books although not as convenient to browse, and definitely not catering to booksellers.
How to Find Cheap Books Nearby
Online stores aren’t the only way to find cheap books if you are up for some browsing in person. Thrift stores, bookstores, donation stores, libraries, consignment stores can all be great places to find used books. There are a few useful sites you can use for that in addition to just searching google maps.
Book Sale Finder
You can find upcoming book sales near you on Book Sale Finder, a popular site for book resellers and non-profit organizations. The design of Book Sale Finder is definitely dated but it’s a very popular site so it’s worth taking a look.
The sales are listed by geographical location and also organized by date with a separate section for Ongoing Sales and Future Sales. While it’s not the easiest to read, the content is excellent.
You can find really cheap books at thrift stores especially ones that are less frequented such as ones in smaller towns or areas that aren’t as popular. I’ve bought almost-new books for under $1 at thrift stores before.
Centers such as Goodwill or Salvation Army will usually have a store that is attached where the donated goods are resold to the public. You may be able to find some good deals on books there although I have generally found better books at thrift stores. Once again the less frequented stores will typically yield better finds.
Aside from the obvious option of borrowing books libraries also host book sales and many have their own in-house bookstore where books are sold at huge discounts. Both library bookstores and book sales at libraries provide excellent value so make sure to check them out.
Read.gov Community Resources
Besides being an interesting general resource for books and literacy, this Library of Congress owned site has a section listing book fairs by state. You will find a listing of book events, locations, time of year and often a link to the organizer’s site. (While there you can also check out the Library of Congress digital collections link for some really interesting finds, albeit all of them online 🙂 )
Thanks for reading, let me know your favorite places to find cheap books in the comments.
Also, check out the other tips for saving money!