This is a companion article to my “Hooked on Books” and “Booksellers talk shop” article, published in thesundaypost, 7 June 2009, but was not reposted on the website.

It doesn’t take rocket scientist to tell you that books are expensive items if you live in Malaysia. Here are some tips on how to get best value for your money.

Buy ’em pre-loved

Locate the used book stores in town. Book Castle at Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce sell novels from between RM8 – RM20. Some book stores also have a section dedicated to secondhand books. Books and magazines also prove to be popular items at charity drives and boot sales, if you don’t mind them a little moth-eaten or outdated. For collectors, you may end up finding a real treasure – like early editions of classics, or a 94-year old book.

Buy sensibly

Being sensible about your book purchases will reduce regrets that come from spending money on something that wasn’t worth it. Before you buy, borrow a copy from a friend or get an opinion from someone who have read the book and have a similar taste in literature. You can also check Amazon.com or books.google.com to see if they have the first few pages available for preview.

Look out for warehouse sales

Major book stores have warehouse sales once a year. Books are really cheap then, and people can be seen shopping by the boxful. Selections range from popular to obscure, and the quality varies, but book lovers should realise that they are getting what they pay for. It’s a good time to let your hair down and let your instincts take the lead without breaking the bank (not too much anyway).

Give yourself a time limit

If you’re one of those people who can go crazy in a book store, give yourself a time limit. This will also help you prioritise where you want to browse. Set the alarm on your mobile phone to go off in 15 minutes or half an hour. When it does, head straight to the counter if you have purchases or out the door if you don’t. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

Hard covers are for hardcore fans

Harry Potter books were released in hard cover at an astronomical sum of around RM100-120 locally. In about a year, it would be available at a fraction of the price, but no true fan will wait that long.

Books by popular authors are released first in hard cover, then in trade paperback to soak up the money of hardcore fans. Mass paperback come later, and normally go for between RM30-40. If you think paying RM32 is tough, leave the early editions to the fans and collectors.

Know where the deals are

Some book stores have a few trade paperbacks and hard covers that are sold at a vastly discounted rate. Industry people suggested that it is due to over-supply, something that is common within large book store chains.

It is usually cheaper to get a trilogy compiled into one volume instead of buying the books individually or in boxed sets. There are also offers like a bundle of three books for a lower rate.

Get a membership

If you love your books, it’s worth getting a membership at your favourite book store. The standard rate is 10%, but there are bigger discounts when sales and promotions come around. MPH doesn’t give out discounts to members of the MPH Reader’s Circle, but the amount you spend go towards a rebate that they send out to you twice a year.

Make a deal with friends

Every avid reader is a fan of a particular author, series or genre. Let them buy what they’ll end up buying anyway. You can look into collecting books that matter to you and swap with them later. More reading and less spending for everyone.

Get a library card

This should be obvious, but many readers tend to look down on library books because they’re not up-to-date enough or they don’t carry material they are interested in. While our libraries are probably not the best place to find Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, they usually have a wealth of beautiful coffee table books and reference books you can bring home and enjoy for a couple of weeks.

Go digital

To many bookworms, electronic books are as wrong as turkey ham. But e-book converts will point out several things. You don’t really need a specialised e-book reader like Amazon’s Kindle. Some e-books come in versions supported by PDAs, so you may already have a suitable device in your possession.

Websites like Project Gutenburg (gutenberg.org) have over 28,000 free books available on their site. If you prefer more current titles, they are usually some good titles available online for a reasonable price. Some authors, notably Paulo Coelho, author of “The Pilgrim”, make some of their work available to download for free from their websites.

Plus, you can carry an entire library in your PDA or reader without the additional weight.

Similarly, audiobooks are available for free at sites like librivox.org or for a price at audible.com. While the pricing isn’t any cheaper than picking up a dead tree version of the book, audiobooks are great for moments where you can’t hold a book but your brain is otherwise unoccupied (i.e. driving or doing chores). But that is a whole other article.

Go Online

There are websites that gives you a platform to trade or give away books with like-minded people.  Sites like paperbackswap.com and bookmooch.com has a fairly comprehensive swap system that makes sure the exchanges are fair to both parties.

Bookcrossing.com lets you literally give away your book by “setting it free” at a public location, and allowing you to track its movements using a unique identification number… that is if the person who picked it up bothered logging in at all. But members have been known to arrange book meets or request books specifically, rather than leaving it to chance. Chances are you’ll never see the book again.

Buying books online tend to be cheaper, but watch out for the shipping rate. Most online stores offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount. It’s worth it if you’re buying a few titles you can’t find here, but if it’s one book, you might be better off hunting it down at your favourite bookstore or getting them to order it for you.

Meet & Swap

People who read most likely have friends who read too. Organise a book swap meet among your friends and ask them to bring their friends. Bring along books that you don’t mind giving away or lending off. You might go home with a few new reads and make some new friends in the process.

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