Reading can become a thanklessly expensive hobby. I’m sure most of us don’t begrudge exchanging our hard-earned cash for an author’s life work, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to look after our own cash flows as well. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to get your hands on cheap and free books which still support the authors who work tirelessly to satisfy our bottomless appetites.
1 Making the most of your subscription services.
Subscription services are the all-you-can-eat of media consumption. Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited is the most obvious example in the book world. If you’re not interested in subscriptions and feeding the beasts, then skip to point 2 (Jumping on the eBook platforms). But if you’ve been considering the option of adding a book service to your monthly expenses, then keep reading.
Kindle Unlimited – £7.99 p/month:
Kindle Unlimited, or KU as the bookish say, is like having access to a library the size of a small country. With an excess of 1.4 million titles to choose from, you’re not going to be short of choice. You can ‘borrow’ up to ten titles at a time and to get more you just need to ‘return’ one. It also offers thousands of books with audio companions that you can then switch between reading and listening in a seamless transition – perfect for when life forces you to put your kindle down and actually move.
If you leave the service, you won’t be able to access the books you’ve read anymore (again, like a library) but you will be able to see the history of books you have taken out and of course, if you sign up again you’ll be able to take them out again.
One thing to note is that whilst there are A LOT of books to choose from, you may not find particular authors on there. This is because when an author, or publisher, puts their book on KU they enter an exclusivity contract – and this means they cannot publish anywhere else (with a few exceptional circumstances made for books that Amazon really wants i.e. Harry Potter). As you can imagine there are a lot of publishers out there, and indie authors for that matter, who don’t want to subject themselves to these distribution limitations.
So, will KU work for you? Here are some things to check before you commit:
1 Do you read more than £7.99’s worth of books a month? That would be between 2 and 3 ebooks.
2 Is there a good selection of books that you want to read on there? There is a 30-day free trial for you to figure this out!
3 Does reading on the kindle app on your phone or tablet, or using a kindle e-reader work for you?
If you can answer yes, yes, and yes then this option may be worth your time, although if you’re already an Amazon Prime member hang fire on that buy it now button for one more minute!
Prime Reading – free for Amazon Prime Members:
It’s easy to get KU and Prime reading mixed up, after all, they are both book distribution services on Amazon. Prime Reading is a free perk of being a prime member and allows you to access between 1000 and 3000 ‘editor’s choices’ across the genres. They do get cycled frequently so you’re unlikely to run out of material but unlike KU it doesn’t include audiobook companion narration. There is still access to magazines if that interests you though. There is also a service called ‘Amazon First Reads’ which is dedicated to new releases.
Scribd – £9.99 p/month:
Whilst Amazon may be the gargantuan monopoliser in the eBook distribution world, Scribd gives them a run for their money.
This subscription service can work on any android, apple, or kindle fire device via an app and boasts a selection of eBooks, audiobooks, podcasts, sheet music, and documents. This would make it the equivalent of Amazon’s KU and Audible services together, but as they don’t have enforced exclusivity the big publishers, and authors who want to publish wide, are far more willing to work with them and so you may well find your favourite authors on there instead of KU.
Will scribd work for you? Here’s a checklist to help you decide:
1 Do you read more than £9.99’s worth of books a month? That would be between 3 and 4 ebooks.
2 Is there a good selection of books that you want to read on there? There is a 30 day free trial for you to figure this out!
3 Does reading on your phone or tablet work for you?
If you can answer yes, yes, and yes, then Scribd might be your path to a great deal on ebooks
2 Jumping on the eBook platforms
Amazon Kindle, Google Books, Apple Books, and Kobo are the big four eBook platforms with free apps. All of them will offer the option to buy books, but they also all have a section dedicated to free books and cheap deals of the day. Therefore, you can have all of these apps downloaded and browse their free and sale sections for a good quality read.
Something to bear in mind is that ‘free’ is a marketing tool as far as authors and publishers are concerned. The common type you’ll see is that the first book of a series is either 99p or free. This is a ploy to get you reading with the hope that you’ll keep reading through the series.
There are two ways to guard against this, one is to have the self-control to wait until the next book in the series is on sale (and hope that it does), and the second is to restrain from clicking the ‘Buy the next book in this series!’ button, go back to the main app, and see if there is a box set. The box set won’t be free but it is invariably a lot cheaper than buying the books individually.
Still, there are some superb deals, and it’s entirely possible for you to have a wide and varied range of free books permanently in your eBook library.
An extra note about Kobo: This platform has ‘Kobo Super Points’ which add up as you purchase books, so if you do splash out on a title you’ll have earnt yourself some credit towards a free book later down the line.
3 Become a deal hunter
This option takes a bit more work – but not as much as you might think. The internet is filled with tools to make our lives easier, if you know where to look.
This book specific deal hunting tool is one of my favourites. When you sign up to BookBub you get to choose your favourite genres, authors, and reading formats. they will then wrap up the best daily deals in your chosen genres and deliver it straight to your inbox. They will also create ‘bundles’ of similar works which are a great way to discover new authors.
This website isn’t specific to books, but it’s a must have for everyone in the UK! HotUKdeals is a crowd sourced, crowd moderated website which publishes deals found across the web and then other members of the community will upvote or down vote to create and overall rating. You can look for pretty much anything using their search bar and find deals relevant to what you’re looking for. You can also set up alerts for when a deal comes in with certain tags. To find books, either type ‘books’ into the search bar or look for your favourite retailers (ie Waterstones).
Another website which is essential for saving money whatever you’re buying! Vouchercloud is particularly useful for hunting down% off vouchers for your favourite retailers.
Find your favourite authors online:
Gone are the days when authors hid behind their publishers, reclusive and enigmatic whilst their publicists run around for them. For better or for worse, authors are now expected to be self-made creative entrepreneurs and the best ones are totally in control of their own destiny. This usually means that any self-respecting author has their own author website and will often have discount for direct customers. They may also have a deluge of free material based in their own universes, that might satisfy your cravings for the next instalment of their series. They may also have a scheme for ARC readers which will mean you get their next book absolutely free (see ARC readers at point 6).
4 Go local
As much as the internet and giant corporations make life convenient, it’s good to support local and you may be surprised at just how easy that is becoming.
YES! Libraries still exist! And they are increasingly time hopping straight into the 21st century. Check out your local council’s page on eBooks and audio books from libraries to find out how your local scheme works. One of the most common is using an app called ‘Libby’ or ‘Overdrive’ depending on your device, which just needs you to apply using your library card number. Of course you could also do the old-fashioned thing and go to the library too!
On top of your library being a local resource, it’s also a community hub so you may find other things of interest such as a book club that piques your interest too.
Guess what – if you ask nicely, your friends and family may even lend you books! Just try not to drop them in the bath…
Quite a few charity shops stock second-hand books, so you can get a fantastic deal, and feel good about it!
Local market places:
eBay, gumtree, and Facebook all have thriving local marketplaces. You’ll be amazed at the amount of people getting rid of boxes of books for absolutely nothing.
5 Out of copyright
Classicly.com has a vast range of classic books, completely for free, which can be downloaded as PDF, ePub, and Kindle formats. Amongst the shelves of high culture are the works of Agatha Christie, Bram Stoker, and Arthur Conan-Doyle along with some absolute gems from ages past. The availability of these books hinges on the fact that they are out of copyright and hence can be distributed freely – even though many booksellers will still sell them for profit.
6 Become an ARC reader
If you really want to get your mitts on the latest an author has to offer, being an ARC reader might be for you. ARC reader or Advanced Review Copy reader is the act of receiving a book for free in exchange for you reading it and leaving a review on agreed platforms. There are lots of different ways to become an ARC reader. You could sign up through an ARC service, you could approach a publisher or author directly, or you could establish yourself as a book reviewer on a platform such as Reedsy. You do have to be prepared to read the book in a specified timeframe and write a detailed and honest review promptly, but the key here is honest. If you hated the book – you can say that.
Being an ARC reader is a responsibility and you may find that it becomes like a job, so ensure that you manage your time and expectations well, and that which ever method you choose allows you to back out if everything become a bit too much.
I hope that was a helpful list! Remember, if you come across something that seems too good to be true, that’s because it probably is! But there are some good deals out there and some great ways to support the author community without bankrupting yourself. Good luck and happy book hunting!
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