4 Reasons to Buy Used Books

"Books Bookstore Library Reading Market" by memyselfaneye is dedicated to the public domain under CC0

“Books Bookstore Library Reading Market” by memyselfaneye is dedicated to the public domain under CC0

I’ve touched previously on the struggles low-income families and students face when trying to access reading materials, and have emphasized buying used books as a viable alternative to paying high cover prices. I realize, however, that my reasoning  has heretofore failed to include those who could buy used but don’t have to. Here, then, for your reading pleasure is a list of four simple facts to compel anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, to buy used books.

1. Used books are cheap like the budgie.

Whether you’re on a tight budget or have more money than God, it’s always nice to be richer. To that end, it’s hard to beat buying pre-owned books. In my area, secondhand paperbacks sell for roughly 3-7% of their cover price ($0.25 to $0.50) and hardcovers go at 5-10% ($1-2). Most consignment shops don’t even mark clothes and furniture down that far, making used books one of the best items you can buy with huge savings.

Library sales and thrift stores are my top places to shop for books, but sometimes they just don’t have much to offer. If you find that the outlets like these nearest you are coming up short, check out these online resellers. The savings might not be as huge, but you’ll still come out a lot cheaper than you would buying new.

2. Buying pre-owned books reduces your carbon footprint.

When you buy a new book, a portion of the price you pay goes to cover the costs of printing and shipping. Printing, in most cases, happens in a factory setting, where machines churn out and assemble pieces of the final product at huge energy costs. Once they are off the presses, the books are shipped across the country—by roadway and air—burning enormous quantities of fossil fuels as they go.

Used books go through this same process, it’s true. But unlike new book vendors, purveyors of pre-owned texts don’t have any pressure to replace bought copies. The book you buy may never appear on their shelves again, and that’s okay. Every time you buy a new book, you’re not just buying a little bit of its personal environmental hazard, but a piece of its replacement’s as well. The demand for new things perpetuates this energy-wasting system; don’t give in.

3. Want to support small businesses and organizations, and stimulate your local economy? Buy used!

Although I mentioned shopping at online resellers earlier, I want to strongly suggest that you buy locally whenever possible. Not only does this help you to further reduce your carbon footprint, it also puts your money into businesses and organizations that are owned and operated by people in your community instead of faceless conglomerates. Why support Barnes & Noble when you could be helping to cover your public library’s next summer reading program, or your neighbor’s son’s hockey uniform?

Even better, by shopping at small businesses near you, you’re investing in your local economy. When it grows, more businesses move into your area, opening up new job and capital opportunities for yourself and your neighbors. Therefore, buying small and local helps build a richer future for yourself and those around you.

4. Used books have character.

This is my personal favorite reason to buy used books, although it’s admittedly a rather shallow one. I love the character of used books. I don’t like being the first person to crack the spine. I like the softness of worn paperbacks, and the musty, moldy smell of classic books stored in an old attic. I live for notes in the margins.

I love opening the book and finding a short letter: “Gina, thanks for being so swell. I hope this book means as much to you as it does to me. XX, Henry.” Who are Gina and Henry, I wonder. Did Gina drop this book off here, or was Henry too shy to ever even give it to her? Is Gina dead? Does Henry know? When an old photograph falls out from between the pages, it’s even better.

There are countless stories in used books, and none of them are dull. Go out and find some today!


Do you buy your books used? Let me know why or why not in the comments!

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