The cheapest way to buy a book

Are e-books actually any cheaper and what if you want the latest best-seller? We take a look at how to pay less for books…

I love books. So much so that my husband has ruled I can only bring a new book into the house if I give an existing book to a charity shop first.

You'd think that my e-reader would be an easy way around this - I can store thousands of titles and only take up the same amount of space as one book as well as saving money.

But it turns out that some e-books cost more than their hardback counterparts – despite not having printing or shipping costs! That’s just crazy, so how can I keep the cost of my books right down?


My book wish list


I always have a string of books I want to read. Right now, I’d like two newly-published books: ‘The Casual Vacancy’ by JK Rowling and ‘The Fractal Prince’ by Hannu Rajaniemi. I wouldn’t mind picking up some of the novels on the latest Booker Prize shortlist to see what the fuss is about either.

‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ by Tan Twang Eng and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel probably top of the list.

On top of those, I’d like to read ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ by Philippa Gregory and the classic ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte.

So what’s the cheapest way to read them?

E-books versus physical books


It’s easy to think e-books are cheaper – I mean, there are far fewer overheads for the publisher and retailer.

But a recent survey of Amazon books found that in more than a third of cases, the digital version was more expensive than the hardcover edition.

So how does it fare for my books? ‘The Casual Vacancy’ costs £20 but Amazon is selling it for just £9 for a hardcover copy. If I buy a Kindle edition through Amazon, it’s £11.99 – nearly £3 more expensive.

‘The Fractal Prince’ does slightly better – it’s selling at £7.79 for a physical copy and just £6.99 for an e-edition.

Looking at the Booker shortlisted books, ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’is £16.14 for hardcover, £9.09 for paperback and £5.58 on Kindle fromAmazon, while ‘Bring up the Bodies’ is most expensive on Kindle at £9.99 with surprisingly little to choose between its price in hardcover (£8.86) and paperback (£8.09).

A new copy of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ is £5.35, while an e-book is £3.99, while ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ is £1.99 for a real copy and free for the Kindle edition. Free is my kind of price.

Shoppers who sell on their second-hand books might still be better off buying a physical copy, as the savings aren’t that huge.

If you can’t help but buy new books as soon as your favourite authors have released them, it’s worth shopping around to find the best deal. A supermarket or bookseller might have a particularly low price or you might find a buy one, get one half price deal at a retailer like WHSmiths.

Second-hand books

If prefer physical copies of books, and you can bring yourself to wait, you could always buy a second-hand edition.

That’s not really an option for new releases but Amazon is offering used versions of ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ in “very good” condition for just £1.98 including delivery.

Of course, there are also second-hand bookshops. However, in my experience, these are not the place to go to save money. They often don’t have the book I’m looking for but I never leave empty handed – so an old bookshop always costs me more.


My local library

Although I rarely borrow books from the library for myself, I do visit once a week to borrow children’s books for my toddler.

So it seemed the perfect place to plough through my reading list for free. However, there’s a waiting list for ‘The Casual Vacancy’ and it could be a couple of months before I can borrow a copy.

It doesn’t have ‘The Fractal Prince’, but the librarian was able to order a copy and so I will be the first person to borrow their edition. I was also able to borrow ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, though, so that was undoubtedly the cheapest way to read that.

Find free books

Project Gutenberg is a free online resource offering access to more than 40,000 free e-books. They can be downloaded onto a Kindle, tablet or computer, or read online.

The website stocks a mixture of free e-books and texts that are out of copyright, including most classics. So while I couldn’t get most of my books there, I could have downloaded a copy of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ if I hadn’t already snapped it up elsewhere.

Amazon offers a variety of free e-books for the Kindle, or the Kindle app if you have a tablet computer. Some of the modern fiction looked a bit dubious, but there are plenty of reviews so you can find the best books easily.

This is a great way to pick up classics and pulp fiction, the kind you might want to read on the plane or a beach but wouldn’t necessarily care about taking home for your bookshelf.

It also has some really interesting non-fiction – I found a free copy of ‘Broadmoor Revealed: Victorian Crime and the Lunatic Asylum’ by Mark Stevens which has turned out to be a fascinating read.

The right books for my shelves

E-books don’t feel the same as real books, I can’t deny it. I don’t really feel like I own the book if I can’t lend it to someone. So where an e-book is more expensive than a physical copy, I’m simply not going to buy it. It also still doesn’t make sense to me.

While e-books have 20% VAT added to them and physical books don’t, surely on it’s own that can’t outweigh the cost of printing, transporting, storing, posting, packing or selling via a staffed bookshop?

It’s also clearly worth researching where to buy my books rather than picking them up on the spur of the moment while browsing Waterstones or Amazon.

However, I can’t keep filling my house with books. That’s not just a money-saving choice, it comes down to space. In the future, I hope I can keep my bookshelves for beautiful, hardback copies of books I really love – and use my Kindle and local library for anything else.

How do you find the cheapest books? Share your thoughts and experiences with other readers by commenting below.