How to get books for free (besides, um, the library)
Still, if you're the sort of person who buys a lot of books but has limited shelf space, or if you've bought a title and have reader's remorse, I can see the appeal. At any rate, if you're nodding your head, you might want to check out PaperBackSwap.com.
It's free -- so far -- the web site freely admits that that probably won't last, that annual dues of $10-20 may eventually come about. But the general idea is that you look for books that you'd like, and if you see any, you order one or two, and you can expect them to be mailed to you free of charge.
(Oh, and despite the name, you can swap hardcover books.)
There is no catch, except that it's expected you'll be willing to do the same. You list whatever books you have that you're willing to trade, and when someone sends you an email saying that they want one of your titles, then you send it to whomever contacted you via email. You have to pay the postage, but so does the person who mails you their book to you.
There's a trust factor involved, obviously, since you're sending books to complete strangers and you're hoping a different stranger will send you a book with the same speed and efficiency that you've done, but it seems to work well, according to one of my friends who has tried it. And if you're wondering if people end up listing books that are utterly wretched, and then they choose great books, there's kind of a fail-safe system for that.
You can't order a book until you have a credit from the PaperBackSwap site. You get credits by mailing one of your books to someone who has asked for it. If you list books with obscure titles that few if any people would want to read, like (I'm making this one up) The History of Fingernail Clippings, you're probably not going to earn many credits.
But to allow you to be able to choose your own books from the moment you sign up with PaperBackSwap, you get two free credits. And if that sounds great to you, you can live, or at least read, happily ever after.
Geoff Williams is a business journalist and also the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).