I love reading, and, as a direct result, I have something of a love affair with books that goes beyond merely reading. I love holding them, touching them, smelling a newly opened book, and, more than anything, I love having them around. As a result, I have developed something of an extensive library (particularly scripts and books about theatre and drama).
If you have been bitten by the book bug (book worm?) as well, then you know that developing a library and/or being surrounded by books can be an expensive past time. However, being a book lover doesn't have to cost a fortune (or cost all the available shelf space in your house). Here are some ways that I've managed to cut down on my own book costs.
1) Develop a book-buying philosophy - In my younger and more vulnerable years, I purchased nearly every book that I wanted to read, which I found left me quite short in the pocketbook. Wanting to be able to save more money and not overflow my condo with books, I have recently more or less decided that I only really need to purchase books if I'm going to need or use them as a reference. As I have been working towards, and recently completed, my M.A. in Drama, most of those reference works have been plays or other books on the theatre. In general, I now only purchase books of this type.
2) The library - Yes, I know this one is the most obvious place to get books on the cheap, but it bears repeating. For a long time, I had a difficult time wanting to get books from the library because I wanted to be able to read them at my leisure, and the three week check-out time (plus an additional three weeks for a one-time renewal) was totally harshing my book-loving buzz, man! Those fascists! Nevertheless, after moving a couple of times in the last few years, I couldn't help thinking that maybe I didn't need so many heavy boxes of books to cart around anymore, particularly for those books that I might only read one time. For example, Tina Fey has written a deeply hilarious book in Bossypants, but after reading it once, will I really need to have it on hand in perpetuity? Probably not.
3) Other free books - Outside of my local public library, there are a couple boxes of free books that people can take home. While these boxes are usually filled with books that no rational person could possibly want nowadays (anyone up for a copy of the Dummies Guide to Windows 95? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?), I have found some choice picks in the past. For example, the other day I looked through the box and found an anthology of plays which included some that I haven't read but that I had been meaning to. There are also some free books on Craigslist if you look under the "free" section, but these are generally not the sorts of books one might want to read (similar to the free boxes at the library).
4) Commercial websites - There is, of course, also a book buying section on Craigslist, which can have some good deals. I recently purchased the beautiful, hard cover, three volume Calvin and Hobbes collection that I've had my eye on for several years after I found a seller on Craigslist who was looking to get rid of it for $25 (which is an absolute steal, especially when you consider that it still goes for around $100 used on Ebay). While I'm on the topic of Ebay, Amazon.com is kind of the obvious choice for books with nearly everything it has in stock having deep discounts off of the cover price, but sometimes Ebay has still manages to have better prices (particularly for used books). I have found that it pays to check both sites. The downside to buying online is that you generally have to pay for shipping; however, if you are a student, you can sign up for Amazon Prime, which offers free two-day shipping. I signed up as a student, and they haven't kicked me out yet, so I still take advantage of that offer from time to time.
5) Non-commercial websites - If the book you're looking for is an older title, then you should be able to find it for free at sites like Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg compiles etexts of books that have fallen into the public domain. Further, you can download the files, and you should be able to upload them onto your ereader (such as a nook or a kindle) if you have one.
6) Used book stores - These are some of my favorite establishments on earth. I really enjoy lingering for an hour or more at a quality used book store with a good collection. If you live in a city that has a university, it may be worthwhile to see if they have a friends of the library book sale room on campus. San Francisco State, for example, has one where all of the softcover books are a dollar and all of the hardcover books are two dollars. While the selection is limited, you can't beat those prices with a stick.
7) New book stores - These stores, like Borders or Barnes and Noble, are usually my last option. Still, Borders has a program that frequently sends out coupons through email that give you 20 to 40 or 50% off the cover price of a book. If you are the sort of person who likes browsing in a bookstore, than it's certainly worthwhile to sign up for the free coupons. As an FYI, for what it's worth, Barnes and Noble tends to be stingier with their coupons. I very seldomly see online coupons for Barnes and Noble, and when I do see them, they are usually only for 10% off.
8) Ereaders - Sure, there is the start up cost of actually buying an ereader (which are still going for better than a hundred bucks for a brand new one), but generally, the books that you are able to purchase for your ereader are going to be less expensive than physical copies of the books. This isn't always the case, however. As a point of reference, I own a Nook from Barnes and Noble, and nearly all of the titles are $9.99.
Those are my ideas of saving money on books. To all of you readers out there, how do you save money on books?