A good novel, a classic whodunit, a scientific treatise, a trashy celebrity mag – all this and more can be yours for little or nothing.
A good read is one of life’s great pleasures, whether enjoyed in a hammock on a sunny summer afternoon or in a cozy armchair while winter winds howl outside.
You might be the one howling, though, when you add up the cost of all that reading material.
Plenty of libraries have magazines you can read for free, but you can’t enjoy them from a hammock or armchair. You have to read them on-site.
Borrowing books for free is great, but you may not find everything you want. Libraries have to make choices based on shelf space, so you might find only a few of John Steinbeck’s novels or Sue Grafton’s mysteries.
Fortunately, plenty of workarounds exist. Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson is an avid reader, but he’s also a savvy saver. Check out his video for advice on how to pay little or nothing for good reads, and then continue on for more tips.
Many magazines can be read online free of charge. But if you like turning actual vs. virtual pages, look for free subscriptions at online sites such as Mercury Magazines, Freebizmag and All Free Magazines. Since it’s necessary to provide personal information and opt into marketing emails, start a separate email address.
Slick mags without sticker shock
Magazines sometimes offer free trial subscriptions to increase interest in their publication. Follow a reputable freebie blogger and keep your eyes peeled. (For links to some of the good ones, see “How to Find Thousands of Freebies.”)
Can’t find the title you want for free? Subscribe with a friend to cut the cost — or maybe more than one friend, if others in your circle take guilty pleasure in trashy celebrity rags or glossy cooking magazines.
Here’s some additional advice, which comes in two parts:
- Subscribe through a magazine site like Magazines.com, MagazineLine or Magazine Deals Now, which offer low prices and frequent specials.
- But don’t buy directly from those sites. Instead, access them through a cash-back shopping site to earn rebates of 12 to 20 percent or even more. I recently saw a temporary rebate rate of 35 percent.
No matter where you buy your magazines, beware of the words “auto renew,” unless, that is, you’re organized enough to cancel before your subscription runs out and the company puts another year’s worth on your credit card.
Any time you’re at a yard sale, look for a “free” box. That’s where sale hosts put things they don’t think anyone would want to buy. Usually they’re odds and ends of housewares and Happy Meals toys, but sometimes I’ve seen magazines and books in the free box.
Finding (or rescuing) books
You’ll see tons of magazines in the mixed-paper bin at the recycling center, too. A kindergarten teacher I know pulls some of those out so her students can practice scissors skills and reading readiness (“Cut out pictures of five things that start with the letter ‘B.’”). You, too, may find periodicals worth rescuing.
At times I lean in and retrieve books from the mixed-paper bin as well, a practice I call dumpster wading. Some are pulp mysteries or children’s titles, but I’ve also found classics like Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie,” and recently I lucked into Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.”
Another great place for me has been the library giveaway shelf. Sometimes I find beat-up copies of old books the library is discarding. I don’t care what they look like on the outside as long as all the pages are intact.
But people also donate unwanted titles all year long to the library for its semiannual book sales, and plenty of those wind up on the giveaway shelf. I’ve seen everything from history to mystery, from beautifully written novels like “Inés of My Soul” to a beautifully illustrated book about Civil War battles, complete with fold-out maps.
Speaking of books no one wants any longer, why not look on The Freecycle Network? I’ve seen children’s books, adult novels, textbooks and even entire sets of encyclopedias. Watch the “free” section on Craigslist, too.
Book swapping sites like Paperback Swap and BookMooch operate online, giving you a chance to trade titles you’ve read for those you’d like to read. These aren’t strictly free, of course, because you have to pay for postage. Still, they’re darned cheap.
Or you could start your own service. Ask for permission to put a swap box at work or in your place of worship. A children’s book exchange could be set up at the afterschool program or child care center.
You could also do this with a small group of friends: Every time you finish a book you don’t want to keep, post the title on social media or do a mass email. First person who responds gets it, as long as he or she is willing to come pick it up.
The virtual library
If you’re the kind of person who likes to talk about what you read, sign up as a reviewer at GoodReads or Amazon Reviews. A thoughtful and well-read reviewer might wind up getting advance copies from authors or publishers.
Oh, and Amazon offers free books every day. Really. They’re e-books and the lineup changes constantly. Visit the “Kindle Store: Free” section of that online juggernaut and download away. Not to be outdone, Barnes and Noble also puts free titles up for grabs.
But what if you can’t find the ones you want? Suppose, for example, that you’re besotted with Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC series “Sherlock” and decide you want to read the Holmes works. Not every library will have all 56 short stories and four Holmes novels, but you can download 48 of the works for free from a site called 221BakerStreet.org.
Millions of e-books in every imaginable genre are available without charge at a number of other sites online. A tremendous resource is Gizmo’s Freeware site, “Free eBooks and Audio Books to Read Online or Download.” It lists 913 sites for free e-books, sorting by genres like autobiography, horror, romance, travel, young adult/teen and math. In addition, it features 224 places to find free audiobooks.
Too overwhelming? Try a few individual sites like:
- Open Library — more than 1.6 million books, dating back as far as 1008.
- Project Gutenberg — more than 45,000 titles.
- Google Play — more than 4 million titles, at least half of which are free.
- ManyBooks.net — more than 29,000 e-books, with a “genre filter” to help refine your results.
For some of us, an e-reader will never replace the comfortable weight of a book in our hands or the delight of turning a page. But sites like the ones above are a great complement to our physical bookshelves, especially when we’re traveling. Instead of lugging three or four hardbacks, we can access multiple downloads via a small e-reader or even a smartphone.
Imagine it: Never again to be bored while standing in line at the DMV or waiting for an airline delay to be resolved. Never again to run out of reading material. Now that’s a modern miracle, and it doesn’t cost you a cent.