How to make your reading habit less expensive

This post is part 3 of the Reading 101 series. Say you’ve taken an interest in reading, formed a reading habit and learned to make time for reading. Sooner or later you will find that it can be pretty expensive to sustain a reading habit. Depending on whether you like to read only physical books or if you are okay with any format of books, there are ways to make your reading habit cost less or nothing at all.

Here are the tips ordered from well-known options to the roads less travelled:

  • Check out libraries

This is not only an affordable way to read books, but it can also help you meet people and make bookish friends. The librarians are likely to give you great suggestions for your next reads. They might even save some books for you if you become a regular visitor and befriend them.

There are many options for this. If you like the traditional model, you can find a local lending library near your house or work so you can visit frequently. You can also opt for the biggest library in town which is quite far if you are okay with travelling a long distance once a week or so. You can also visit libraries that don’t let you check out books but allow you to stay in all day and read inside the premises.

There are also libraries that deliver books at your doorstep and take back the books you return. They usually have a digital catalogue in a mobile app or a website and let you choose what books you want to check out and what you’d like to return. If you are cool with any form of books, you can use apps to borrow ebooks and audiobooks from your library.

  • Take advantage of book fairs and stalls during festivals

Book fairs offer great discounts for new books. Usually, you would have to pay a small entry fee and almost all the books for sale would be discounted. Some sellers may even give you complimentary gifts for purchasing.

You can also see a variety of stalls being set up in some areas during festivals. The bookstalls here may offer books at a heavy discount. Last Diwali, I bought some good books at Rs.200 per kg (roughly $3 per 2lbs). If you are from India, luckily there is no dearth of festivals, so you will have access to these stalls year-round.

  • Buy from used book shops

When I was a child, there used to be this old paper mart near my house. People in the area sold their old newspapers, books and magazines to local vendors by weight. The vendors would then resell them to this shop.

The newspapers went straight for recycling but all the books and magazines would be stacked outside for anyone to buy. The novels were sold based on their condition and size rather than content or popularity. Magazines were sold based on the date of publishing. Back then, Reader’s Digest magazine used to cost Rs.50 and I could get older editions for Rs.15 to Rs.20.

Nowadays I don’t see such shops around. However, there are lots of used book shops where people can sell and buy used books. From textbooks to novels, you can purchase for a lot less than MRP. Unlike the recycle shops, these sellers know the value of the books, so the in-demand books cost more and the ones which aren’t popular are quite cheap. If you buy a lot of books, they may even let you bargain.

If you like to own books or if the books you want are always checked out in your library, then try a used book shop. If you don’t like a book, you can resell it to the same shop for a little less than what you paid for. There are also old book shops which let you purchase and sell books from their website and deliver the books to your address.

Pro tip: A lot of used book shops cannot be found from an internet search (at least the ones in my locality are hidden). If you don’t know where to find them, ask high school students. Entrance exam books cost a lot and students usually rely on second-hand shops, so they would know where to find these shops.

  • Swap Books

Swapping your books with a fellow reader is a great way to not only reduce your expenses but will also let you discuss the books and bond with your friend. Having said that, you might want to test how someone treats books before lending them your favourites.

  • Explore Classics

If you are into ebooks, then there are many options to read classics for free. Sites like Project Gutenberg hold many classics and let you read them online or download for free. Your ebook store (Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Google Books, etc.) will also have options to download classics for free.

You don’t have to buy an ebook reader. You can just register for any of these services, download their app and ‘purchase’ the classics for $0. There are also mobile apps with a specific book or a collection of books by an author. If you like audiobooks, then check out LibriVox.

In case you are wondering if these options are legal, fret not. Websites and apps can let you read and download a book for free when its copyright is expired.

  • Read contemporary short stories and poems online

Classics not your cup of tea? You can check out contemporary short stories and poetry online. There are many digital magazines that publish fresh stories and poems. Some options I like are Tor, The New Yorker, Granta, The Narrative Magazine, Literary Hub and Electric Literature. You can also just do a basic internet search for free contemporary short stories or poetry online and go from there.

  • Check out sites/apps that let anyone publish their work

The difference between the previous point and this one is that magazines like The New Yorker publish selected works after reviewing submissions from the writers. Websites like Wattpad have no such regulation and anyone can upload their work. Therefore the quality of the content varies. You will find established authors to budding writers who seek feedback from the readers. Most of the books are free to read by anyone.

  • Enter Book Giveaways

Authors, especially ones who self publish, give away their books for free to some of the people who request it. The point of such giveaways is publicity as well as seeking reviews. So if you get a book for free from an author, make sure to read and review it.

Follow literary Twitter and Instagram accounts and you may come across book giveaways. Some blogs also give away books for winners of reading challenges. Goodreads has a separate page where you can enter giveaways but this is currently available only for the US and Canada.

  • Request Galleys

A galley is like a product sample for books. They are also known as Advanced reader copies (ARCs). These can be digital or printed versions. Publishers and authors will give away a copy of their book before it goes into publishing. This could be a final copy or an uncorrected proof given to reviewers, bloggers, librarians, distributors, and other industry contacts for their feedback.

Bloggers and consumer reviewers are expected to post their opinion about the book in different eCommerce sites as well as share with the publisher/author. There are a few sites like NetGalley and Edelweiss+ that offer digital ARCs. There are also some Twitter accounts and GoodReads groups that offer digital ARCs.

If you like to read only physical books and do not prefer digital formats, it can be difficult to get ARCs when you are just starting out as a reader. When you become a book blogger and/or establish yourself as a reader with a sizeable number of followers, you will be approached by authors and publishers for your review. I’ll share more about how to get there in the next post in this series.

Hope you found something helpful here. Do share your favourite site to read short stories and poems.

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