tips and tricks

13 Ways to Access Free and Cheap Books

For a while now, I’ve been tossing around the idea of writing some Tips and Tricks blogposts for readers. These blogposts would primarily focus on a few key topics, such as how to (legally) access free/cheap books and how to get started as a book reviewer.

Why? Because recently, there seem to be more and more readers unashamedly promoting book piracy websites and unethical “purchasing” methods which is in a word: theft.

Firstly, a little background into the matter:
Several months ago, a group of readers on Booktok started a deplorable trend of buying ebooks, reading them in their entirety, and then returning them to get their money back for the simple reason of “not being able to afford books”. This resulted in many authors losing hundreds and thousands of dollars in revenue (i.e. appropriate payment for their jobs as authors). Many authors also had their books wrongly removed from online platforms, namely Amazon, due to those readers using the excuse of “too many typos/errors” in their quest for their money back. For those unfamiliar with publishing through sites like Amazon, getting books relisted can be a very long, lengthy process (especially if you’re trying to re-upload the same manuscript and prove that your story does not in fact need further editing/proofreading).

Thankfully, Amazon listened to the outcry of authors and the reading community (over 75,000 signatures on the change.org petition), and is changing their return policy to ensure authors are being appropriately compensated for their hard work. Read more about the policy here at Book Riot.

Fast forward to November 2022 and it has just been announced that book piracy site, Z-Library, has been shut down, and users of this site are upset. It’s my understanding that this site pirated a range of e-books including academic textbooks and fictional novels.

While my advice below will focus on fictional books, I’ll also add an extra little bonus tip section for readers needing to access academic textbooks!

13 WAYS TO ACCESS FREE AND CHEAP BOOKS

1 – Join Your Local Library
Local libraries are a great way to access free books and online resources! The way they work is that you provide a few contact details to your local library (my own local library simply asked for my name, residential address, email, phone number and date of birth) and in return they organise a free library card for your use. Once you have that library card in your possession, you can borrow–for free!–a number of physical books (and e-books and audiobooks, if they have online resources) for a specific length of time. The great part about this option (aside from being free) is that many libraries have the option for customers to request specific books for libraries to order if they don’t already carry the ones you’re after.

Something to keep in mind with local libraries is any additional fee policies they may have. While the actual borrowing of books is free, some libraries may charge a small fee for late returns (usually per day), transfers between library locations, or the loss of a book completely (as they will need to re-purchase a new copy for their system). In my own personal experience, I am a member of two local city council libraries. One of my libraries doesn’t charge for late returns or transfers between locations but will charge a replacement fee if a book was lost. I’m not entirely sure of the exact prices of my other library but I believe it’s approx. $0.50-$1.00/day for late returns and maybe $2.00 for a location transfer, etc.

2 – Free Ebooks on E-Reader Platforms
Did you know your choice of e-reader most likely has hundreds (if not, thousands) of e-books ready to download for free? Have a bit of money to spend? Check out the list of free and heavily discounted books available! Amazon/Kindle, Kobo, and B&N/Nook have pages upon pages of e-book titles available for free and/or the cheap prices of 99c, $1.99, $2.99, etc.

For easy reference, I’ll add the links for the free Kobo & Nook books here for you: Kobo | Nook
For Kindle books, head over to your local Amazon website (e.g. Aussies would go to Amazon AU), then in the search bar type in “Free ebooks” + preferred book genre. As I am a romance reader, I would type into the search bar “free ebooks romance” or “free romance ebooks” and there I would find dozens upon dozens of books ready to be added to my kindle.

If you’re not sure if you’ll like a book prior to purchase, check out sample options as well! Kindle allow readers to download a free sample of the ebooks which is a great way to try out a reading style and get a sense for the book before you commit to purchasing. Sample sizes range depending on the overall size of the book, but they are usually the first one or two chapters.

3 – Netgalley, BookSprout and Edelweiss
Platforms like Netgalley, BookSprout and Edelweiss are great ways to request Advance Review Copies (ARCs) of upcoming new releases! These ARCs are provided to reviewers for free with the idea that upon completion of reading, the reader will leave a review and, therefore, generate promotion for the book. ARCs can be provided by authors, publishers, or PR companies.

Something to keep in mind for ARC requests is that the person hosting the ARC promotion may receive hundreds of requests so check out approval requirements, update your profile(s) to remain in line with said requirements, and don’t be disheartened if your request gets knocked back because I guarantee an approval for another book will be right around the corner! (More tips and tricks–based on my own experiences–on Netgalley profiles will be posted soon.)

4 – Author Newsletters
Have you ever heard of a reader magnet? Essentially, it’s an incentive provided by an author in exchange for providing your email address to their mailing list. Many authors will often provide a free ebook from their backlist as their reader magnet. This means you get a free ebook from your fave authors simply for letting them email you occasionally (you also have the option of unsubscribing from their emails if you truly no longer want to hear their updates).

Another bonus to signing up for an author’s newsletter? They are one of the best ways to receive news and updates from your fave authors, including when they make their titles free or heavily discounted for a limited time!

5 – Book Deal Websites
There are heaps of legal websites promoting book deals! Two websites that I personally use are: BookBub and Prolific Works. These sites are great because they work with authors to promote their books and will give you an update when books they think you may be interested in go on sale or become free for a limited time.

Another website that I saw recommended by @bookish.loner is eReaderIQ. I personally haven’t used this site yet but it’s one I’ll be checking out in the future! From what I understand, eReaderIQ tracks books and authors you like and will email you when prices drop. It’s updated every day and also includes listings of free kindle books.

6 – PR Company Masterlists
Book PR companies work similarly to Netgalley and Edelweiss in that they provide listings of upcoming releases on offer for promotion and review. Readers can put through a request for these titles and the PR companies will let you know closer to release date on whether you were successful in scoring a copy for review. PR companies are great because they’re run by book lovers and reviewers themselves so they understand the excitement that comes with seeing your fave author’s latest book become available for review! They also offer multiple opportunities to show your support by providing promotional materials for you to share with your friends and followers (e.g. cover reveals, teaser graphics, and exclusive excerpts).

Please keep in mind: PR companies receive many requests for titles and have limited spaces available so they typically prioritise reviewers who regularly read the same genre as the requested book and/or have read and reviewed certain authors before. Another thing to consider is that due to time constraints, PR companies will send the requested title to you 1-2 weeks prior to release and ask that reviews are submitted no more than five days after release day so being able to read, review and submit your review links back within time constraints is important.

As a romance reader, I’m only really familiar with PR companies that specifically promote romance books and authors. For other genres, check out google or check in with readers in your chosen genre’s book community. If you’re also a romance reader, however, here are a list of some PR companies to try:
Candi Kane PR | Give Me Books PR | Grey’s Promotions | InkSlinger PR
Social Butterfly PR | The Next Step PR | Valentine PR | Wildfire Marketing Solutions

7 – Subscription Services
Similar to a lending library but for a fee. Sites like Amazon have programs (e.g. Kindle Unlimited and Audible) which allow readers to pay a set monthly fee and in exchange can borrow a number of ebooks and/or audiobooks. There are also various independent booksellers (e.g. Libro FM) that provide ebooks/audiobooks for a monthly membership fee. Some subscriptions/memberships allow readers to keep their chosen books (even after cancelling their membership), while others will need to return their borrowed books.

Personally, I only use Kindle Unlimited (KU) so I can’t speak for how the other options work exactly (I recommend reading up on the different programs before signing up!) but the way KU works is that I pay a monthly fee and in return I can borrow up to 20 book titles at a time. While a member, the titles don’t expire so I can “borrow” them for as long as I’d like; however, if I cancel my membership, the books will be automatically returned meaning I don’t get to keep them. This option works well for me as I read multiple ebooks each month (e.g. last month I read 15 books through KU) and the monthly fee I pay is equal to the purchase price of approx. 2-3 books. So basically, really great value!

8 – Ask an Author (or Publisher)
Authors are people too! And as such, they understand things like increased cost of living, being on a budget, and books not always being easily accessible. There are many authors out there who will gladly say yes to giving out a free ebook in exchange for an honest review (and the free promotion that comes with it). There is no harm in politely messaging an author to ask. Worst case scenario is they say no and offer you alternatives on how to access (legally) their books for free or cheap–maybe they have a freebie offer or sale promo just around the corner!

Likewise, do some research into the book’s publisher and how reviewers can request copies of upcoming books. It may take a little navigating of their website but you can usually find contact details for review requests under media or publicity tabs.

Keep in mind: being polite and considerate to authors will get you far! Don’t forget your manners and please understand that if an author does say no, it could be for any number of reasons, including postage fees, international rights to the book and/or specific country laws (ever see a book giveaway hosted by a publisher that is specific to a geographic location? This is a common reason why their availability is limited to a specific country).

9 – Little Free Libraries
The emergence of little free libraries (LFL) across the globe has been lifechanging for readers on a budget! Basically, it’s a non-profit organisation that encourages readers within the community to promote reading through book exchange. Their idea is to take a book, leave a book. Readers within the community can voluntarily build a book exchange hub (usually they look like a small bookshelf/shelving cabinet with a door allowing access to the books inside) and then situate the LFL at the front of their properties for readers to use. Find your local LFL at the link here.

P.s. Google LFL designs and check out how amazingly creative readers can be!

10 – Local Book Clubs
Check out your local book clubs as a great way to access free or discounted books (it’s also a great way to make book friends!). Not all book clubs will offer discounts. But some book clubs hosted by libraries will set aside copies of the selected book specifically for the book club to read. Book publishers may also offer discounts (and include Book Club Question materials to use and reflect upon) if books are purchased in bulk for the purpose of a book club.

11 – Book Swaps with Friends
Book friends are the best friends. Have some books on your shelf that you think your friend would love? Ask if they’d be interested in swapping (permanently or temporarily) for some books on their shelves. This is a great way to save some money for yourself and bond with your friend(s) over some great books!

Another option is creating a wishlist and sharing the link securely with your trusted friends (keep in mind privacy matters if you decide to share this link publicly on social media platforms as delivery details can often contain your full name and potentially details of your address). If shared amongst family/friends, you could politely discuss this being your preferred way to receive birthday gifts, and vice versa, you could use this method to purchase books for your friends in return.

12 – Author Street Teams
Joining an author’s street team is a great way to access free ARCs. As a member of their street team, you’ll get to review upcoming releases before publication and help promote their news to other readers (e.g. cover reveals, book sales, upcoming events). Street team applications can be open year-round or for a limited time throughout the year. The best way to keep apprised of when authors are accepting applications is to sign up for their newsletter and follow them on social media! At the time of writing this blog, I am a street team member for two of my fave authors and I love being able to promote their work and support their writing journeys!

13 – Thrift Stores and Op Shops
Thrift stores and op shops can be an absolute treasure trove when it comes to discovering book gems. You may need to wade through titles outside of your preferred genre–but when you find a good one, it’s a great feeling! The best part is their price. Where I live, they range from $1-$5 at thrift stores but can go as high as $10 at my local secondhand book shop (a thrift store that sells books exclusively). Even at the $10 price, they’re significantly cheaper than purchasing brand new and a great way to promote a circular economy.

When it comes to thrift stores and charity shops, ask if they ever have any book sales! Where I live, one of our local op shops has a huge book sale one or two times per year that involves heavily discounting their books in order to make room for new donations coming through their doors. And a great benefit is that the money raised is donated to a great cause.

BONUS TIP FOR TEXTBOOKS

After reading multiple comments on instagram, academic authors seem to be quite happy to help out struggling university students too! Instagram user and academic author, @isabelsdogiscute, has advised that politely reaching out to academic authors directly is a great way to ask for a free copy of their books or research papers and many will happily say yes to providing students with a copy for free rather than have their hard work stolen through book piracy websites. They’ve also advised that website, Research Gate, legally provides many academic books and research papers for free!

Okay, that was a lot of information for one blog post but the fact of the matter is piracy is stealing and hard-working authors deserve appropriate compensation. Not only do pirated books take money out of the hands of authors, but if they’re on a platform with an exclusivity clause (e.g. KU), authors can suffer legal and financial issues through no fault of their own. Additionally, many of these piracy websites ignore requests from authors to remove their works off said sites.

I saw one particular reader (I won’t name them) say that “people have the right to read books” and to that I agree to an extent. People do have the right to read books, but they don’t have the right to steal from authors. There are so many different options to legally access free or heavily discounted books (I’ve covered 13 ways in this post!) but if you can think of any others that I’ve forgotten, please leave a comment below with your own suggestions!

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