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,,, and

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 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. 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. 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 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. 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.


  1. I have a Sony e-Reader and I use the digital library here in Phoenix to get books for my reader. We have a huge number of titles for download and can use it just like a regular library. Also Google has free titles as well

  2. This is much easier and more convenient than reading standard book, and the library/lending features are making it even better. I downloaded the Kindle app onto my IPhone, which provides the same features as a Nook without the need to carry the extra device..

  3. I still havent gotten into the ebook thing yet. Though I know you can view newspaper publications through your kindle, which intrigues me, because Im more apt to read current events than books themselves. Still I find they charge a high cost for convenience.

    • They do, and in my opinion, the electronic version of the periodicals is not as good as the paper version because they often lack the visuals (graphs, photos, etc.) that accompany an article. I occasionally read the Wall Street Journal on my phone using a Kindle app, but notice it looks a little different than the print edition.I imagine over time this will change as publishers begin to consider an ereading audience.

      • It depends on the device. The peridiocals I’ve read on the Nook Color are true to the print edition. That’s a flaw because using the Nook Color to read magazines is an exercise in zooming in and out and switching back and forth between Article View and the magazine itself. Article View does make it easier to read the articles, but it’s existence is a testament to the fact that the print edition does not translate well to the device. They do look beautiful though; I love thumbing through Science Illustrated on the Nook Color.

        For the Nook, the layout is completely different. The occassional missing graphic is frustrating, but the periodicals I’ve read have been lacking advertisements and reading through the text of the newspaper or magazine is a breeze.

  4. I write ebooks. Most of the 300+ books on my reader were free in some way or another, whether author giveaways, public domain contributor copies or website freebies. (None are pirated. Pirating ebooks says you don’t think writers deserve to be paid) Now, most of my suggestions are going to be romance, because that is what I read and write.

    1) get a non proprietary format reading device. .pdf is the industry standard and you will have more free book options available

    2) Project Gutenberg
    Sherlock Holmes, The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood, Peter Pan, Hunting the Grisley [sic] by Teddy Roosevelt, the Kama Sutra and Pride and Prejudice, are all there for the downloading. Dickens, Twain, Mythology and history. Help yourself to over 33,000 books

    3) All Romance E-books and Harlequin often run give-aways around the holidays. Visit All romance every day in December for a free book. Some are really good.

    4) Ellora’s Cave has a selection of free short stories called “Naughty Nooners.”

    5) Reviews by Jessewave gives away a free book every day.

    Let me say that print books are not going to go away. There will always be a niche for them. People will still want to hold and read and collect. However, I think we’ll see a move to putting the ephemera, the books we read once or twice, on ebook, while shelving the Keepers at home. We’ll probably have a digital copy of the Keepers as well, to make sure the original stays in good condition.

  5. My husband and I decided on a nook because it is compatible with public libraries format for e-books already. We live in a small town and our library has a good selection of e-books to check out, I’ve only bought one book for it in the year we’ve had it!

  6. One of the cornerstones of my debt repayment plan was to stop buying boks and visit the library. I’m very fortunate in that I live ina city where there are many, and can reserve books if they aren’t available at my branch.
    Not only does it control clutter ( I have plenty of books at home still ), but it keeps my impulse spending in check. Thank you for all the Nook tips!
    I love this blog!

  7. I’ve been thinking about getting an ebook for a while. Several family members are happy with their Kindles. Being able to use the Nook at the library would be a big plus though. May wait to see what the new library lending feature for Kindle is like before making a decision.

    Thanks for the article and the comments.

  8. For me it has to be the library. However there are some really good charity shops close to where I like and you can pick up used recently published books for a couple of dollars a piece. Sometimes I find a real gem in there. Finally my last port of call is the bargain bin at my local bookstore – it can be very hit and miss but sometimes you get lucky.

  9. My mom and I have our iPads logged into the same amazon account, which allows us to share the same books, legally, on our devices, through the Kindle app. Neither of us go to the movies, out to eat, or use any other form of entertainment, so that budget is spent on ebooks. Amazon runs free ebooks, and shopping frequently lets you get some when they drop the price by $2 to $4 a title. I also use Project Gutenberg for the classics and sync those through iTunes, which stretches the budget as well. Dividing the cost by two readers, it’s not so horrible a price. My mom is 84, and she absolutely adores the size of the text she gets on the iPad, and the level of brightness she gets with the backlighting means that she can still read from the iPad, when she would have to have put a book down due to eye fatigue. Keeping her reading is worth any amount of money to me, but I have been able to do it fairly economically in this manner. I spent the same money on physical books in the past, although, that money did go further, as I traded them in a used bookstore, which is not possible with ebooks. I consider that the price I pay for the convenience of (1) not having the worry of them cluttering my (really small) house and toting them to the next town every two months, and (2) my mom reading longer and more happily. On the same subject as the cost of ebooks, I read an article yesterday about the disconnect between publisher and consumer over cost of ebooks; the publisher is (allegedlly) not saving all that much on ebooks publishing costs, as the publisher is still spreading the cost of marketing to each unit of ebook sold, while the consumer thinks of the huge savings the publisher is reaping in not printing, storing, and shipping an actual book. (I’m trying to post the link below:
    Story at MacWorld)

  10. I’ve been hesitant to invest and this gives me a much better idea of what to expect when I finally talk myself into it. I still love the feel of a good, old fashioned book in my hand and I always will. But I also realize this is where things are heading. Thanks for the great info!

  11. There are a number of large public libraries that allow non-residents to get an annual library card for as little as $15 a year. Do a web search on “non resident library card” and you will be presented with lots of options. Once you identify a library, be sure to check out their download section to insure that they carry a selection of books that you find interesting before you sign up and send in your payment.

    BTW, most libraries also have audio books available for download. These are easily loaded on to an iPod of MP3 player.

    — Gaye

  12. While I’m a fan of ebooks, I too was pretty disappointed by the lending options. Only being able to lend a book once during the life time of a book is a pretty big problem IMO. The work around we choose in our family (4 readers) is to simply all use the same Amazon account on our reading devices (one actual kindle and 4 android phones). It has the added benefit of being able to share our music via Amazon Cloud Player with each other as well.

  13. I’m a huge fan of, which let’s members earn credits for mailing out books they no longer want to other members who request them. You then can use those credits to order (free!) books you want from other members. You do have to pay the media mail rate to send your old books to new homes (@ $2.00) but postage to you is free. They have a huge amount of books available, and you can keep a wish list to be alerted when a book you want becomes available, if it is not already.

  14. I really wonder if these e-readers like this one and the Kindle are going to become obsolete soon with the iPad being such a popular alternative with so much more functionality.

    • Andrew – I happen to have both a Sony reader and an iPad. The iPad is fantastic as a reader but due to its size, is not easily packed away in a handbag or pocket. Also, the reader’s battery lasts up to two weeks on a single charge.

      For someone that is not particularly mobile, the iPad would be a better choice because it does so much more. But for someone on the go or someone who travels, I vote for the reader (which is also less money).

      — Gaye

    • Just to add:

      I have an iPad, a Nook, and a Nook Color. I do most of my reading on the Nook.

      The Nook is lighter, cheaper, has free 3G (at least mine does), and has an e-ink screen which is much easier on the eyes than an LCD screen and makes for a much longer battery life.

      I could probably do without the Nook Color now that I have an iPad. The iPad is definitely slicker and more functional. But for someone without an iPad, the Nook Color might be more appealing since it is less than half the cost of even the cheapest iPad.

  15. I have a nook and my husband has a nook color. We LOVE them both. We are link to the same account at B&N and share the books, at least the ones that interest us both.

    I am ready to upgrad to the newest Nook to “be friends” with my dear friend. it looks like you can “swap” books and it is more than once, or at least that is how the web site makes it look.

    I am also interested in the aps function. I have a wish list, and keep that on my laptop, but that isn’t always convienent when I’m looking for a book to read.

    I have been checking out books from my local library on my nook for a year now and I love this feature! I’m very grateful that my library system has this and has invested a lot to get this up and running with tons of titles.

  16. Hey Frugal,
    Great post. I’m not a digi-ready just yet, but stay on the cusp of techonology, which gets me asked all the questions regardless of my knowledge status on products. Thanks for the post. Helps out a ton. Came over from Muskrat Dad. Glad I did.

    The Cheeky Daddy

  17. If you’re comparing using an ereader to using the library, yes it’s more expensive. But if you usually purchase books, there’s always a good selection of ebooks that are less expensive than hardback or paperback & as Guest said on 6/6, there are a lot of free ones. Right now Amazon has a huge list of books for $3 or less. I am a voracious reader & late to get an ereader (just a few months ago), but have been enchanted by it from day 1. For magazines or books that depend on color illustrations, I buy hardcopy. Also, I rarely lend regular books, so the lendability factor is not a factor for me.

    And dedicated ereaders use a different screen technology so they’re more comfortable to read for long periods of time than a standard computer/ipad/iphone screen is.

  18. Thanks for this info. I have a Kindle and I also cringe when I go to find a newly released book for $11 when I can get my beloved paper for $18-$20. I am a real-deal “bound with paper and glue” bibliophile, but also am pretty stoked about the current e-lending you described and the methods coming up.