Around 25% of adults report that they haven’t read a book in the past year. That means no paperback novels, no e-books, and no audiobooks (because audiobooks definitely count as reading). That’s sort of understandable: After all, we’re all bombarded with social media and our phones in general, and we all have demanding schedules and busy lives. It’s easy to let reading fall to the wayside. Reading is important, though! It helps us keep our critical thinking skills fresh, teaches us new vocabulary, and introduces us to new worlds and ideas.
One thing that might be keeping people from reading as much as they like is the price of books. New trade paperbacks typically sell for $14 to $18, and new hardbacks now start at around $30. It’s a classic bookworm dilemma: How do you pay for all of the books you want to read? Even Thomas Jefferson struggled with this issue! Jefferson, whose personal library was the envy of many other founding fathers, was deeply in debt throughout his life, in part because he bought so many books. Luckily, today, we have more ways to get books for free. Whether you read multiple books per week or struggle to finish one per year, you can enjoy reading without blowing your budget.
Little Free Libraries
Have you ever been out walking and noticed a box that resembled a little house mounted to a pole or the side of a building? You might find them in people’s yards, in the parking lots of local businesses, or in parks. They’re Little Free Libraries, and there are around 90,000 spread across the United States. They’re filled with free books! Usually, each Little Free Library has a custodian or guardian who takes care of it. However, it’s considered good manners that if you take books from a Little Free Library, you should also donate some. What’s available in each library changes by the day, but it’s not unusual to find a wide range of options, from children’s books to the latest best-sellers.
Project Gutenberg, a volunteer-run project founded in 1971, is the oldest functioning digital archive of books on the Internet. Most items in Project Gutenberg’s collection consist of full texts of classic works that are in the public domain. Books typically enter the public domain on the first New Year’s Day after the 95th anniversary of their publication. Books that recently entered the public domain include The Great Gatsby and Winnie-the-Pooh. The books are available to download in a variety of formats that work with popular e-readers and e-book apps. Although most of the collection is in English, there’s also a varied selection of works in other languages. Project Gutenberg is a great resource for anyone who wants to brush up on the classics or needs to save money on required reading lists from school!
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
If you have kids, you’ll want to sign up for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. The Imagination Library regularly mails books to children under the age of 5. The books are typically high-quality picture books that children really enjoy. It’s a great way for little ones in your life to start building their own libraries at no cost to their families. Parton founded this program in 1995, and initially, it focused on serving the children who live near where she was born in Tennessee. The program quickly expanded, and today, not only does it mail books to children across the United States, but it’s also offered in Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
People often give away books because they’re moving, downsizing, or dealing with the books their parents or grandparents spent a lifetime collecting. How can you find these books? Check the free sections of Craigslist or Freecycle. It’s often possible to build an entire library for only the cost of gas to go get them. You might also find free books on apps like OfferUp or the marketplace section of Facebook.
While you’re looking around online, look up some local estate sale companies and give them a call. Offer to pick up any leftover books when their next estate sale concludes. Often, these companies are responsible for disposing of any belongings remaining after the sale and are happy to have someone come deal with the books.
Free Review Copies From Publishers
How would you like to read the hottest new releases before they are even available in stores? That’s the reality for people who review upcoming titles, and the best part is that it’s totally free. Advance reader copies (ARCs) of upcoming books are available to reviewers, buyers for bookstores, and librarians. Those with some sort of substantial social media following (via a blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc.) will have an easier time getting hard-copy ARCs. If that’s you, start by targeting some books you’re interested in, finding out who the publisher is, and then going to their website to find out their policies for requesting ARCs.
But if you don’t have a huge online following, all hope is not lost! Publishers also want readers who can help them build excitement on sites like Goodreads or StoryGraph. To get started, make an account and start reviewing books you’ve read previously or are currently reading to build a history. It’s a good idea to put in some work to build a following on Goodreads. Then, once you’ve established yourself as someone who reads and reviews books, go to NetGalley. NetGalley allows readers to connect with publishers to get digital ARCs of upcoming books. And once you become a NetGalley user, you can also download a wide variety of ARCs that are available to the entire NetGalley community. As for the books you need to request from publishers, they’re typically easier to get here as digital downloads than physical ARCs. The e-books are available in a variety of formats for different devices. Just don’t forget to actually review the book once you’ve finished reading it!
Beyond the Library
Everyone knows that their neighborhood library is a great place to check out hard-copy books, ranging from how-to manuals to picture books. However, today’s libraries also offer so much more!
Interlibrary Loan: Do you want a book that your local library doesn’t have a copy of? If so, you’ll be glad to know that loans aren’t just for money: You can ask your local librarian to request books you want through interlibrary loan, which links libraries across the country. You can check on WorldCat to see which libraries have the title you want in their collection.
Libby: If you prefer e-books and electronic audiobooks to hardcovers and CDs, the library can still hook you up with free reading material. Libby is a service that libraries contract with to provide e-books and audiobooks to their patrons. You’ll need to log into Libby with the information from your library card.
- Hoopla: Not every library system subscribes to Libby. Instead, they use services like Hoopla, which also offers e-books, music, and audiobooks. Check the homepage of your neighborhood library to find out what e-book services they offer!
With these options, it’s easy to get free or inexpensive books for you and your family.