How to Save Money » Frugal Living

You Realize Books Are Free, Right?

Let me say, right from the beginning of this post: Kindles, Kobos and other kinds of e-readers are pretty cool. I recently had the chance to play around with one, and I can understand the appeal behind getting one. The backlight technology makes for a pretty enjoyable reading experience. The unit is light, which is a nice touch for those of us who like to read big, heavy hard-covers. Books can be downloaded pretty much instantly, great for the impatient among us. An e-reader is perfect to take on a vacation, and having your entire library on one piece of technology is pretty appealing.
Now I’m going to argue why you should never own one.

I’m an active reader. I read at least 30 books a year, probably more. I read countless blogs, magazines and interesting articles from the news websites out there. I easily spend an average of an hour a day reading. You could say that I’m the perfect customer for an e-reader. Since I read smartly, I don’t think I’ll ever buy one. Here are my reasons:

I Don’t Buy Many Books

I have to give my library credit for being technologically savvy. I downloaded an app for my iPhone that allows me to search for books and reserve them without even having to crack open my laptop. I can spend time at the bookstore, browsing the titles and previewing them, and request them directly from the library without having to leave the store.
No wonder Borders went bankrupt. You can go into a bookstore, browse the selection, note which book you want to buy, and then buy it for 30% less on the internet. Amazon doesn’t have storefronts, which are really expensive, especially when they take up prime space in shopping malls. Book stores have no choice but to expand into things like games and CDs, which means they’re forced to compete with behemoths like Wal-Mart.
Even though I read plenty of books, I hardly buy any. My library consists of less than 10 books. The books I do own are my absolute favorites, classics I’ll read over and over again. If I get a book as a gift, I usually read it once and get rid of it. I’ll either pass it along to someone who wants to read it or donate it to the library. Which brings me to the next topic.

Why Don’t More People Use Libraries?

I know a guy who owns over 1500 books, yet he doesn’t have a library card. I also know all sorts of other people who’ll read a dozen or so books a year, and yet they don’t set foot in the library. I cannot figure out why more readers don’t use the library.
Every library is technologically advanced enough that you can request a book without talking to anyone. You just go to the library’s website and enter in your request, and a couple weeks later it’s at your branch to pick up. Anyone who knows their way around a computer can do it. Library memberships are either free or close enough to free that they pay for themselves after just one book.
I pay $12 a year for my library membership. If you divide that by the 30 books I read, each book costs me 40 cents to take out. At $10 a book, I’d be paying $300 to read the same amount of material.
I really have no idea why more readers don’t use the library. If you have any ideas, feel free to comment about them.

Read Smarter

If you’re one of those people who gets some sort of satisfaction out of your bookshelf, I’m not going to convince you to read smarter. The guy I mentioned earlier who has 1500 books doesn’t have those books for any practical reason. His bookshelf is a source of pride and he hopes people envy his intellectual prowess. If that’s why you collect books, I can’t really help you.
If you’re the kind of person who enjoys reading, then you really have no reason to own a book, unless you plan on reading it more than once. Instead of buying an e-reader, which just makes it easier to buy books, you should rent your books. The beauty of renting books is that there exists an institution (subsidized by your tax dollars) that allows you to do it basically for free. Only a moron wouldn’t take advantage of that, and you don’t want to be one of them.


  1. Ivin

    Hello Nelson. While you’re moaning about electronic book devices, do you know that you can read your favorite blogs on it too? And you can even make a subscription of yours available on there too.

  2. Melissa

    I love my local library, and I actually worked there for five years part-time when I was in high school (and for one year after). But I LOVE my book collection. It’s not an ego thing. I just love being able to browse my shelves and pick out my favourites, and flip to just the right page, or to be able to grab something off a shelf to lend to a friend. And I like marking them up and writing in the margins and stuff like that. I can’t help it. I can’t ever imagine replacing that with a Kindle and a library card. (From a strictly money point of view, almost every single one of my books was bought used, for only a couple of bucks. So I guess it’s not so horrible.)

  3. Sustainable PF

    My Grandpa has a massive library. To him it is a collection (mostly historical and WW I/II books). He receives books as gifts, reads them all, and shelves them in his particular way to organize his library.

    I don’t see him getting a kindle … ever. I mean, my likewise 90 yr old Nana has been emailing for a decade, but Gramps, he still lugs out his 27 lb typewriter when he needs to write a relative or a newspaper editor.

    • Nelson Smith

      Your Grandpa sounds like the kind of guy who yells at teenagers for being on his lawn.

  4. Derek

    Some libraries let you rent e-books for free. If you have an e-reader you can rent all of your e-books for free from the library. You didn’t mention this in your article but it’s something to look into at your local library.

    • Nelson Smith

      My library offers nothing but the old books that have come off copyright. Hardly worth getting excited over, in my opinion.

      If it gets to the point where I can download any book I want to my e-reader from the library for free, I rescind every word that bashes e-readers. Since I’m fairly confident it’ll never happen, I guess I’m stuck getting actual books from the library.

  5. TJ

    I completely forgot that libraries existed after college. Then, a few years ago, I went into my local library and was reminded how great libraries are.

    Additionally, most cities have a setup where you can reserve any book from any local library online, and have it delivered to the library closest to your house. Now, I can get almost any book for free within walking distance.

  6. My University Money

    I just stepped foot in a library nearby and was blown away at how great it was. They even have ebooks or audiobooks that you can download for free. You don’t have to worry about late fees because they automatically delete off of your device after 2 weeks or so, than you can just download it again if you never finished.

  7. krantcents

    I a big fan of the library too. My library (Los Angeles Public Library) allows me to put holds (reserve) on books. I check Amazon for what is being released and put a hold at my library and generally get it within a month after release. I must read 50-75 books a year.

  8. stompie79

    I love my libraries although find myself having to buy books when my municipality doesn’t have a copy of something I want to read. As a British Expat I do find it a little frustrating that I’m reliant on just my municipality to provide access to any book I might ever be interested in and am subsequently let down. The UK has a national library system where at least 1 copy of any book released in the UK is housed. I realise that wouldn’t work here as Canada is to large but co-operation between neighbouring municipalities might be useful. I find the idea that libraries (IMHO the repository of our knowledge as well as recreational use) are filled with what is popular rather then what might be useful quite scary.

  9. Bethy

    True that it seems silly to purchase books for an e-reader when you can get them for free at the library. But that’s why I got a Nook. You can get library books on the Nook, but not the Kindle yet. And so, I paid the price for the convenience of not lugging books around–which is helpful, since I live in San Francisco and have no car–and I get to check out library books to my Nook, without ever leaving the comfort of my couch. Pretty great.

    • Nelson Smith

      How’s the selection?

  10. Glenn Cooke

    You know what’s better than a library? My local small indie bookstore. As time allows, I’ll read a couple of books in an evening, and my local library would be exhausted in a week.

    My local bookstore owner knows me, knows my tastes, and does what a small proprietor should do – advises me on reading material. She stays current on what’s new and available and keeps books in stock specifically because she knows they fit my tastes. I no longer go browsing for books, I walk in and ask for three books, they’re ready on the shelf for me.

    Depends on your tastes though. If I read more non-fiction or perhaps some more mainstream stuff my local library would be suitable. But I’m reading right off the presses most of the time, my library simply doesn’t have the books.

  11. Kenneth

    I love libraries too, but many time, I find the popular books have a long waiting list. The wait can be many months. So it’s great if you live in a big city with a well stocked library.

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