Cheap Presents for Smart People: Finding Book Bargains


Finding Book Bargains

Bookstores satisfy your ultimate fantasy: one-stop, affordable shopping for relaxing entertainment for yourself and presents for everyone else including your gamer niece, indie rock-fan nephew, hockey-playing son, DIY-obsessed spouse, vegan cousin, dog-breeding parents, opera-buff step-parents, and UFO-abductee aunt. No matter what the interests, hobbies, or bizarre obsessions of your relatives and acquaintances, you can always find books, they will enjoy.

With chains, discount book stores, used book stores, thrift shops, and internet sites all competing for your money, you can always find the books you want at a price you can afford – if you know how and where to look.

Price a Book By Its Cover


Buying books is like buying cars; they lose half their value when they leave the store. You can sometimes find good deals on a pristine new book, but if you want real bargains, look for “as new” or gently-used books. To save even more money, look for “reading copies” in “good” or “excellent” condition, books that may have a few scuff marks or worn spines, or be missing dust jackets, but are otherwise just as readable as original  new copies that cost twice as much.

Book bargains come in several categories:

Discounted Bestsellers: Big chain bookstores offer discounts on recent bestsellers to attract traffic and remain competitive.

Hardbacks Released in Paper: Once a book is released in paperback, the price of a hardback plummets, sometimes even to below the cost of the paperback. Use heavily discounted hardbacks as presents; for example, select nice cat mysteries for your aunt, the crazy cat lady.

Remainders and Overstocks: Bookstores sometimes buy too many of a hot title and then either heavily discount the extras or return them to the publisher. Technically, these are “used” books, and sometimes they are marked on the outside with a single dot or short line in magic marker, but as the “use” only consists in having been shipped back and forth between warehouses, they are often in perfect condition. Used bookstores usually buy remainders and overstocks in bulk and resell them at huge discounts. These make great presents for hobbyists and fans, who like heavily illustrated expensive hardbacks and don’t mind a minor mark or scuff.

Review and Examination Copies: Publishers send “review” copies to magazines and newspapers and “examination” copies to professors to publicize books. Since only a fraction of these is actually reviewed or used as textbooks, the rest are usually offloaded to used bookstores in pristine condition. Scoop up newly-published textbooks for your kids or the latest coffee table books for your cultured friends at bargain prices by regularly visiting used bookstores that have deals with magazines or academics.

Used Books: More heavily used books are cheaper than ones in perfect condition. If you are a reader rather than a collector you can save 75 percent or more off cover prices by finding copies with worn covers or minor markings. Consider these as presents for kids or teens – someone whose room decor looks like the “after” picture of a tsunami is unlikely to notice a few dog-eared pages.

Words to the Wise

Tips on Getting the Best Deals

With bookstores, as any other types of store, it pays to look around. Basements, back rooms, and remainder tables in odd corners may have the best deals. As for the “dollar tables” outside: the name says it all.

For each type of outlet, there are a few tricks to getting the most book for your dollars:

Big Chains: Join a loyalty program and watch your e-mail carefully for coupons and exclusive deals.

Independent Stores: These are, alas, a dying breed. They can’t compete with the big chains on new book prices, but they may have good deals on remainders.

Used Bookstores: Prune your bookshelves on your way to the store and see if you can sell your unwanted books for in-store credit to finance a purchase of new books. You’ll usually get twice as much credit as you would cash.

Thrift Stores and Garage Sales: You can find some great books at garage sales and thrift shops such as Oxfam, Goodwill, and the Salvation Army, but most of what they have is badly worn copies of mass market books. Go this route only if there are shops near you that you can check every few days.

University and Library Books Sales: Go early the first day and grab books fast, because professional dealers compete to get the good stuff. Then return on the afternoon of the last day for extreme markdowns.

Internet: It’s always worth checking online pricing. Remember to verify shipping and handling prices before you commit to a purchase. One common scam is for vendors to offer essentially worthless books online for $1 and then make a significant profit on inflated shipping fees.