Monday, August 1, 2011

Where and How to Buy Your Books

I don't know about you guys, but I'm always in the hunt to buy books as affordable as possible. I'm only familiar with US stores (online), so this won't apply much for people in Europe for example. Over the last couple of months I've been doing most of my buying online from Borders, and since they're practically dead now, I'm on the hunt for a new online store. Don't know which to use yet, but I seem to be leaning towards Books-A-Million. Still trying to familiarize myself with them.

Over the past couple of years I've been using Bookdepository as my go-to seller, but starting late last year the price increased quite a bit in some cases so I started looking for other stores to find cheaper books. Pre-Orders on mass paperbacks are still well priced, $5.99 or $5.39 with a 10% coupon. I still buy quite a bit from them, but not at the rate I used to.

Everywhere I go around the net you'll see people claiming that no one can beat Amazon prices, and that's simply not true. Initially it might seem true because their sell price, the one they show all customers, is usually among the lowest, if not the lowest. So for convenience sake and for those that don't want to do a bit of work to find best prices, Amazon seemingly seems to have them.

One of my biggest regrets recently is that I came very late to learn how to work the system; the usage of good coupons in combination with memberships and cash back websites. And this has been particularly true for me in the last couple of months with Borders. I barely became a Rewards Members Plus two months ago, and it cost me $20. Waste of money right? Well no, I also got $10 worth of Bonus Bucks just for signing up, and then saved a lot of money throughout the next two months re-organizing my pre-orders, plus I got another $5 worth in Borders Bucks. So I more than covered the membership charge. I was buying mass paperbacks in the range of $4.23-$5.15 in a consistent basis, find me a retail store who could match that.

Anyways, let's get on with the program, some hints and tips:

1. Shipping Policies:

If you live in continental US you probably won't have anything to worry about, but if you live in one of the US territories/protectorates (Puerto Rico) or in a state outside the continent (Hawaii and Alaska) then you have to pay attention.

Amazon, for example, will ship a book in the US for $3.00, but if you live in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, or Alaska they'll charge you $5.00 for the shipment, which is criminal particularly when USPS considers some of these destinations as domestic which is the same shipping rate as any other state. I don't know about you, but I'm not a fan of my money being stolen because of crappy policies. At least they offer Free Super Saver Shipping to Hawaii and Alaska for orders of $25+, but other destinations are still screwed.

Barnes & Noble has a similar problem. Their non-membership is a good one, even through all states and some US territories, which includes $25+ purchase with free-shipping. The problem comes when you become a member. They offer free Express Shipping to members with no minimum purchase to continental states (excluding Alaska). They still offer free-shipping to Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico, but only if you order $25+ worth. So that left me scratching my head, why become a member then? You'll be getting the same service as a non-member pretty much if you don't live in the continental US. And the major problem here comes when you want to use coupons, but more on that later.

Bookdepository has free-shipping throughout the world, so it's a matter of studying which countries are excluded. No need to go into detail.

Books-A-Million has the same thing for members and non-members, buy $25+ and get free-shipping, which includes Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Alaska (I still need some confirmation though). Not much of a benefit here, but the way their coupon system works it becomes a bit of a non-issue.

2. Cash Back Websites:

Still don't know how legit these websites are, but they seem so to me. You basically subscribe to these websites, click on a link to the online store you want to buy from which will open a new window. In that new window you place an order and you'll get a cash back on that order. You can get anywhere between 3%-8% cash back on your order.

I'm still not very familiar with this system, as I recently became a member of one of them to test it out, so don't hold me to it. I'm an Ebates member at the moment, and in August 15 they should Paypal me a certain amount of my accumulated cash back, so I'll know more on that date. But keep it mind, do your own investigation.

Worth noting though, that none of the cash back services I've seen offer Amazon or Bookdepository as store. Let me know if you know of one.

I've only used Fatwallet (barely) and Ebates so far (here's a non-referer Ebates link for those who care about such things). But I've yet gone through a cycle in which I got payment owed, so I don't know if they work. I suspect they do, and since I didn't have to enter much personal information or credit card numbers, the risk seems very low. So, nothing to lose at the moment by trying them. I think you only need to provide an email address to sign-up, but I might be mistaken. In two months I've accumulated about $40 dollars in cash backs among various sites (not all on books), so hopefully it does work.

Make sure you read the details and instructions of these sites well as any wrong step might prevent you from getting cash back on an order. In all, don't count on the cash back when placing your order, as it's fairly immaterial to your buying decision, but consider it a welcomed surprise when they do happen.

When I signed-up on Ebates I got an offer for a $10 B&N Gift Card, though they told me it'll take anywhere from 4-8 weeks after qualifying for it. I'm still waiting for it. But whatever, not going to lose any sleep over it at the moment.

3. Look for coupons and offers:

Very important, learn how to use coupons, how they work on a particular site, how frequent do they come about, how can you can combine them with shipping policies, etc.

Bookdepository often has 10% coupons about very often. Not easy to find, unless it's a big promotion, but some are posted in some forums around the net at any given time.

Barnes & Noble has decent coupons, many of them apply to purchase prices. Main problem is that you can only use one coupon per order, and most coupons that come about are for one item only. And here's where the shipping policy explained above comes to bite you in the ass if you're not in continental US. Since you can't get free-shipping without minimum amount of purchase, then the coupons don't come that handy, since you'll still be forced to buy books that might not be at a good price range just so that you can get to the $25 minimum. Another problem with B&N coupons is that they usually don't apply for pre-orders, which is a crappy policy if you ask me.

Books-A-Million has a weird coupon system. Most of their coupons come in the nature of $10 off a $50 order, or $20 off a $100 order. So depending on your spending habits, this could either be of great use or a hindrance  But with the right combination of books, you should be able to get some great pricing on your purchase, particularly when combined with their Club Membership discounts. The key here is to buy as closely to the $50 mark as you can and with as few books as possible. I would say an adequate target would be 5 total books with a mixture of hardcovers, mass paperbacks, and paperbacks.

Amazon, well I really haven't seen any coupons just those 4-for-3 promotions that don't seem that useful to me.

4. Memberships and Make a Plan

This is the real question isn't it? Which site should I pay $20 to become a member (well in Amazon's case you'd have to pay a lot more for Prime Membership, so I'm not going to bother)?

First thing to consider is how many books do you plan on buying in a year? If the answer is anywhere between "quite a bit" and "a lot" then you should really consider becoming a member of some store.

So how to chose? Well that really depends on the needs and benefits the membership brings you in combination with everything I've explained above. There's no one-size fits all here, so you'll have to make your mind for yourself.

Before deciding on a membership, you really have to make a bit of a plan and anticipate what you'll be buying. Learn your buying habits well. Have a look at catalogs and see what is going to be released throughout the year. If you make the correct decision, then you should be able to save quite a bit of money, and remember if you buy a membership make your you plan on buying from that store the majority of the time to make it worthwhile.

At the moment I'm leaning towards becoming a Books-A-Million member. If I did my math correctly, and using the right coupon and with the Club Discounts for being a member, right now I could save between $7-$8 in one order buying two mass paperbacks, one hardcover, and two paperbacks vs. what it would have cost me buying the mass paperbacks in Bookdepository and the rest from Amazon.

So I figure that 3 or 4 orders of this nature in a year and I would cover the membership charge, and the rest will be pure savings.

5. Used Books

You can find some good value with used bookstores. The downside is that authors don't see a penny from you buying used books, so I find it better practice to find cheap new books than buying used books when there's an opportunity. But the choices are still out there. Won't spend much time here since there's a lot of used book sellers out there, so you'll just have to look for yourself. At the moment I've found the best prices in Abebooks, so I say try to used that. Plus cash back websites do offer cash back for purchases through Abebooks.

Well as you can see, you have options out there to get more value for your money. You'll end up either buying more books with your money or saving in what books you do decide to buy. It's all about doing a bit of work.  And I know it's a bit time consuming, but the benefits should be worth it.

This has been my experience so far buying online. If I'm mistaken in any of the details I've provided let me know so I can make the post more accurate, or if you have some pointers for myself I'll welcome them. Sorry for it being so long, I honestly mean to write a few short pointers and be done with it.

Hope you found the post helpful in some manner and you can start buying in a more affordable practice. For those looking for hints on eBooks, then you're looking in the wrong place since I don't know shit about the eBook system. Worth mentioning though that Books-A-Million seems to also work under the Nook system, so worth looking more information on for Nook owners.


  1. Wow, that's a great list. I used to order everything through Borders too and they were by far my favorite, until I got free books through Amazon, but this has to do with Law School point rewards and LexisNexis. Once I'm out of Law School I'm gonna have to figure things out again. Thanks for the info, I'll be needing this after next year.

  2. It may be in the same vein as used books, I suppose, but I tend to visit Book Closeouts once or twice a year. The site deals in remaindered books, so they don't carry much in the way of the latest releases (though anything even a few months old can turn up there) and their SFF selection is rather thin, but neither is much of a problem for me. This is not a site to shop at all the time, in fact I only shop there maybe once or twice a year... when their sales are unbeatable. Twice a year they offer free shipping on any order--their books are very cheap, so the shipping tends to add up if you go all out. Once a year, this free shipping deal lines up with another sale: Black Friday (It lasts a month), when most of their stock is discounted half price.

    (I just did a quick check on their site and you can get Daniel Abraham's An Autumn War in hardcover for $5.99--it is brand new, no damage, but there may be a remainder mark, obviously. When the sales roll around, even cheaper.)

    (Now, obviously, the problem with a site that deals in remaindered books is that you have to wade through a lot of crap to find the good stuff. It can take a while, but I have managed to find quite a few gems... even some books that are difficult to find otherwise.

  3. @Seak

    Glad you liked it, do you mind giving me a bit more details on that Amazon program when you get the time (I know you've been busy as of late), interested in seeing how it works.

    I remember LexisNexis from my college days, though if I remember correctly I mostly used it for Finance articles, etc. Or maybe I'm thinking of something else.


    I'll have a look at Book Closeouts, seems like something I'll have to keep an eye on. I myself often wait before buying a hardcover just so I can buy one of those cheap ones with remainder marks since I really don't care. For these types I usually get them through Amazon, but I've barely been using Abebooks for a couple of months really so I'll see if I can find better deals there. Though they're usually the same sellers there than in Amazon, but considering the shipping costs, you should get better prices for the same book in Abebooks from the same seller.

  4. Even for those who aren't into eReaders, I think it's worth making a point to snatch up the .99 1.99 offers that the SFF publishers put out. You can read them on smart phones. Just a nice way to get a good book inexpensively.

  5. Well, there are two competing legal databases that are always trying to win law students over, LexisNexis and Westlaw. They each offer points for researching, doing tutorials, etc. I've become a pretty huge point whore lately because they started using Amazon gift cards as some of the rewards.

    It'll be a sad day when I'm out of law school and have to pay for my books again...oh yeah, I might actually have money then...oh yeah I'll need a job for that.

  6. @Justin

    Just last month I got myself a Samsung Galaxy S 19000T Android phone, still haven't been tempted to try eBooks on it. I really doubt it's my thing. I might consider it for short stories, particularly those offered free on author sites, etc.


    Kinda going through what you're going through at the moment. I was gathering points in my credit card, and just last month I got a $50 gift card for Borders, and it was mostly used on pre-orders so now I'm crossing my fingers that I didn't waste the gift card.

    But yeah, those gift cards no longer an option.

    Any of you guys use any of the Cash Back websites I mention above by any chance to get some sort of "testimonial evidence" that it's legit?


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