Four Ways You Can Save Money On Books

September 26, 2009 by
Filed under: Business, Finance and Investment 

Not many people would dispute that Australian consumers get ripped off when buying books.

I first noticed this in the year 2000, when the GST was introduced by the Howard government. I was a university student, and the cost of a single textbook had broken the $100 barrier. It seemed that book prices had virtually doubled overnight. When I asked the manager, I was told that the introduction of the 10% GST and the new accounting procedures added a lot of overhead.

I think that’s only a small part of the explanation:

In Australia, four chain bookstores dominate retail book sales: Dymocks, Angus & Robertson, Borders & the Co-op Bookshop. They are traditional walk-in bookshops with large displays, elaborate decorations and many staff. Online book retailing in Australia has not yet reached the mainstream as it is in the USA and Europe.

Also, Australia has controversial laws preventing parallel importation – stores are not allowed to legally sell a cheaply imported book published overseas if the same book has also been published locally. There have been calls to change these laws to allow parallel importation,  but I doubt it will reduce prices significantly.

Despite this, there are still many things you can do to avoid overspending on books. Here is a list:


1. Borrow from a Library

Try and borrow the book from your local library. If your library doesn’t have it, you can request an interlibrary loan whereby your library will try and obtain it from another library in Australia or abroad. This commonly incurs a nominal fee, anywhere between $1-$10 dollars. If you are a university student or staff member, interlibrary loans can even be free.

You can quickly find out if a book is available in an Australian library by searching the Libraries Australia database, hosted on on the National Library of Australia website. If you want to check overseas library catalogues, they have a list of foreign library websites.

Borrowing, of course, may not be a viable option if you need the book immediately and/or have to refer to the book again and again.


2. Buy Books From Overseas Online Retailers

Amazon has been around for a long time, but they have no Australian presence, so most people usually go to the Amazon USA website. Unfortunately, they charge a lot for shipping to Australia, so it’s only economical if you have to buy a few books, or combine purchases with someone else.

A better alternative I discovered is BookDepository. They are located in the UK, but all of their prices include shipping to anywhere in the world. Even after currency conversion from British Pounds into Australia dollars, they come up cheaper than buying locally.


3. Buy Electronic Versions of Books (eBooks)

I don’t have that much space on my bookshelf. It really sucks when I buy a book, finish it and then have to stash it somewhere. Also, I am an impatient person and when I order books, I really hate waiting for them to arrive.

For this reason, I prefer eBooks. I don’t mean those cheap and shabby amateur self-published PDF eBooks that litter the internet, but mainstream books published by big name publishers like Random House, Harper Collins and others.

When you buy an eBook online, you download it as a file, most often in Adobe eBook and Microsoft Reader formats. Clients for these formats are freely downloadable.

If you are comfortable reading books on your computer monitor (today’s flatscreen LCD displays are much more gentle on the eyes), this may be a viable option. You can search the net to see if your desired book is available as an eBook – it’s a simple matter of going to your favourite search engine and specifying the title with the added word “eBook” as the search term.

The main drawbacks of commercial eBooks is that you cannot resell them or give them away after you have finished with them – they are licensed to only be used by you. Each computer that you use to read an eBook must be ‘activated’ or ‘registered’ to prevent unauthorised sharing and illegal copying of eBooks. e.g. If someone else makes a copy of your eBook and opens it on his or her computer, it will refuse unless they also have obtained a licence. At the moment, Microsoft Reader lets you activate up to 6 computers, i.e. you can read an eBook that you have purchased on 6 different computers.

There are a number of websites that sell eBooks, but I have found Diesel eBooks to be the best. Of all the sites I have checked, they seem to have the biggest range of eBooks and for 3 of my recent purchases, they also had the lowest price.


4. Download Public Domain Books From Project Gutenberg

In most countries, copyrighted books enter the public domain between 50-70 years after the death of the author, depending on the copyright law in the country of publication. This means that if the book you were after was written before 1969, Project Gutenberg may have it.

Project Gutenberg describes itself as “a volunteer effort to digitize and archive cultural works, to encourage the creation
and distribution of eBooks.” It was founded in 1971 by Michael S. Hart and is the oldest digital library.

All the works on the site are in the public domain, or are published with permission of the copyright holders. The bulk of Project Gutenberg’s eBooks are available in plain ASCII text and HTML formats, though some are in PDF format. Unlike the commercial eBooks mentioned in point 3, these files are unprotected and can be opened on any computer.

Some noteworthy examples are: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

The main USA site is

Project Gutenberg also has sister sites located in other countries. As copyright law differs between countries, the list of books in the public domain also differs. If you are looking for books written in English, it is worth checking the catalog of Project Gutenberg Australia and Project Gutenberg Canada if you can’t find them on the USA site.

Feel free to leave a comment on any tips you may have for saving money on books.

Fine print:
 If you have time, always shop around for the best price. Links in this post to online bookstores contain affiliate codes. If you click on them, I may receive a commission if you make a purchase. This goes straight into maintaining and developing Here’s Trouble.


2 Comments on Four Ways You Can Save Money On Books

  1. on Mon, 28th Sep 2009 7:27 pm
  2. How To Avoid Being Ripped Off Buying Books in Australia | Here’s Trouble…

    Discusses the reasons why books are expensive in Australia, and 4 ways on how Aussies can save money.

    Issues covered include restrictions on parallel imports, the GST, the retail bookstore oligopoly and the small penetration of online booksellers….

  3. Personal Finance Buzz on Mon, 28th Sep 2009 7:46 pm
  4. Personal Finance Buzz…

    Your story was featured in Personal Finance Buzz! Please visit and promote your article….

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