Book Lending Options for Bibliophiles and Cheapskates

Last year, a friend of mine gave me an e-book reader, specifically a Nook from Barnes & Noble. I had been coveting Kindles and Nooks for quite a while, but was too cheap to spring for one. When I got one, I was delighted, but also dismayed at the high cost of e-books.

Unless Aesop’s Fables is your idea of a ripping good read, you will have to pay through the nose for electronic reading matter. Luckily there are a few ways to cut costs on electronic books.

Sharing e-books with Friends

Since my sister also has a Nook, I started looking into the book-sharing feature offered by Barnes & Noble. Lending books is the last thing that Amazon and Barnes & Noble want to promote, so they do it very grudgingly and with cumbersome restrictions.

Some books purchased from Barnes and Noble are categorized as “Lend Me” books. These books can be lent to another Nook user by logging onto the BN website and accessing the “My Nook Library” page. From there, it’s a few simple steps to lend a book to another user by entering their email address.

Easy enough, but books can only be lent once, and only for a 14-day stretch, with no option to extend. During the loan interval, the owner cannot access the book.

The Kindle lending process is essentially identical. Both Nook and Kindle apps are now available for iPad, iTouch, iPhone, Android, PC and Mac, meaning that you can also lend books to friends who don’t own a dedicated e-book reader.

Sharing e-books with Strangers

If you don’t have friend to swap with, don’t despair. You can tap into communities of readers looking to lower costs by sharing books on free sites such as ebookfling.com, booklending.com, lendink.com, and lendle.me.

There are also many book-sharing groups on Facebook. These sites connect lenders and borrowers and can reduce your book expenses by giving you temporary access to one free book for every “lendable” book in your e-library.

When sharing books with strangers, you will have to provide an email address in order to complete the trade. On the sites mentioned above, you can use an email address other than your Nook/Amazon email address for the transaction. It’s a good idea to set up a separate email address strictly for swapping purposes, as an added layer of protection against spam or fraud.

Sharing Printed Books

I know the writing is probably on the wall for traditional printed books, but I admit that I love the feel of the printed page, the heft of a good book, the smell of a musty tome. If, like me, you can’t completely let go of the printed page, then there are still some innovative cost-saving programs for the swapping of printed books.

The site booksfree.com has been around for quite a while, and is a Netflix-type book-lending program. Users add titles they are interested in to a queue the site sends you one, two or more books at a time depending on your plan. Books are mailed to your home and are returned using a postage-paid plastic envelope. There is no time limit or late fees, but they don’t send new selections until you return the old ones. Subscribers can even send in their own old books and accrue credits on their account.

The only downside is that the titles are mainly popular fiction; you won’t find deep repositories of history, literature, biography, and the like using this service. The least expensive plan ($14.49) allows users to check out two books at a time with unlimited rentals. This means that the faster you read, the more books you can rent per month. For voracious readers, this can result in big savings.

Bookmooch.com is a website that shuffles books between owners. This free service is based on a points system. Users post lists of books and accrue points by giving these books away to other users. The accumulated points allow users to request books from other members. The upsides of this site are that it gives a bonus for books sent internationally and has many foreign-language titles available. The downside is that you will incur postal charges for the books you send to other bibliophiles.

Bookcrossing.com is a cross between a book-lending site and a kooky sociology experiment, and was called “a modern-day message in a bottle,” by the San Francisco Chronicle. Users label books with unique IDs and then share them via a system dubbed “catch and release.”

The first step is to label a book with a Bookcrossing.com ID, then give it away to a “friend, a stranger, a strange friend, or a friendly stranger,” as the site says. Books can be lent to other users looking for a specific title (a “controlled release”) or be left on a park bench or in a coffee shop for a stranger to pick up (a “wild release”). The person who “catches” the book, can log onto the site and post and update on its whereabouts. Bookcrossing.com currently boasts over 7 million books floating around in 130 different countries.

Tapping into the Motherlode

Of course the public library is the most obvious resource for the frugal book addict, but if you live in place with an anemic or distant library, or worse, no library at all—like I do—then the options above can be lifesavers.

A huge boon for Kindle owners is also on the horizon: Amazon has plans to roll out a new feature called Library Lending later this year. Kindle owners (all generations) will be able to check out e-books from more than 11,000 libraries in the United States. That should be enough free nightstand material to keep even the most avid reader happy.

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