Ebooks Are Expensive. Library Cards Are Free.

So you finally did it: shelled out the money for an ereader. Or you downloaded a free ereader app. Then you start looking for books and suffer sticker shock: how in the world does an ebook cost nearly the same amount as a hard copy? Did you just buy a glorified paperweight because you’re uncomfortable shelling out over $10 every time you want to buy something to read? I wondered the same thing. If you figure that the price of a book includes the publisher’s cost of physically making the book and getting it to you—the cost of paper, the printer, shipping the book, and the like, a digital copy should absolutely be cheaper. A digital file, on the other hand, has to be created one way or the other, right? So why is the average new book from a major publisher priced at $12.99? I did a little digging, and according to publishers, the cost of making and distributing the book is actually pretty small. The stuff that costs a lot—paying the author’s royalties, the editor, copywriter, art department for that sweet cover design, and stuff like sales and publicity—is still going to get passed to you to pay. Also, they usually add DRM and format the book into several file formats to make it compatible with most ereaders.

You might luck out with self-published books, where authors get to keep the majority of the profit and are more likely to keep the book to $5.99 or less. But those can be a bit hit or miss with the quality, as anybody with a computer can publish an ebook. There’s also books that are available for free. Some are classics with no copywrite issues from sites like Project Gutenberg, which offers over 50,000 books from authors like Twain, Tolstoy, and Austen for free. They typically take a little work to get onto your device, so get comfortable with the drag-and-drop technique of side loading. Another technique publishers and authors alike use is giving away a book for free if it is the first book in a series or some of the back catalog when a new book comes out. This generates buzz for the rest of the author’s catalog with the hope of driving up sales. It is an easy way to get a reader hooked and coming back for more.

But the best way to get free ebooks is to borrow them from your library. It’s true. I’ve read an incredible amount of brand new books and bestsellers that would have cost me between $9.99 and $12.99 each by borrowing them from the library where I work. I love the convenience of an ebook. If I had to put a hold on it, the book automatically checks out to me when it comes in. I pick how long I want to borrow it for (up to 21 days), and then I read it. If I want to return it early, I can. If not, the book magically disappears from my account the day it is due. No late fees, no running to the library’s drop bin at some crazy hour of my day. I literally do nothing and the book gets back where it needs to go.

Some libraries will even allow patrons to recommend books for the library to purchase. That’s even less money out of your pocket if they take you up on that recommendation, and you can set it up so you are notified when it is available. Other libraries who use the Overdrive Advantage system are able to add additional copies of popular books to help reduce wait times. True, the more popular a book is, the lengthier the wait time will be.But if you read a lot, you’ll definitely be saving yourself some money. I like to go in, put a book on hold and then use the “available now” search feature to find something to tide me over. Sure, waitingmy turn sucks, but it’s money in my pocket.

Ask yourself: what’s more important, reading the book NOW or reading it for free? The answer to that question will dictate whether you should click on that “buy” or “borrow” button.

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