Do Bookstores Deserve Your Money? : Deciding When and When Not to Purchase New Books

By Paige Bayliss

I love owning physical books. I love being able to say I have a collection. I love seeing them lined up on my shelves, spines aligning in a way that satisfies the deepest corners of my brain that need an extra scratch every once in a while. There’s nothing quite like seeing a wall of shelves filled with your own books to make you feel so good. 

The one downside? I hate buying them.

Seriously, when did books get so expensive? Even worse, I’m only talking about the paperbacks I read from day to day. When I think of the prices of the books I have to purchase for my college classes, I keel over and think about throwing up. 

As a victim of American capitalism, I frequently like to find ways to do things for free. If I can talk myself out of spending money, I will do everything in my power to do it. However, as a book lover and aspiring home library owner, I find it difficult deciding when to and when not to buy a book. If I can read it at a library for free or borrow it from a friend (or find a free copy online shhh), I feel inclined to do that over actually buying it. Then I find myself in a spiral of wondering if I’ve done something wrong. Shouldn’t I be supporting the people whose work I’m reading? Shouldn’t I buy these books for the simple reason that supporting art should always be a priority?

I like to think the answer to that question is yes, which then makes me hate myself for not buying the book in the first place, but then I remember that I’m broke and I feel fine about it again. It’s a never ending loop. It’s even worse when you actually buy the book and wonder if you should have ever actually spent the cash in the first place. 

This all leads me back to the big question: When and where should I spend money on a book?

The best system I’ve built for myself is to spend money on the books that are written by authors I want to support. When buying an author’s book, you send a message to their publisher saying, “Hey, people want to read these books, you should keep publishing them.” The more books they sell, the more likely they are to be published again. 

On the other side of that, depending on the authors contract with their publisher, they make residuals from sales. Albeit, not necessarily as much as they should. The more books of theirs that are purchased, the more they make in residuals. Unfortunately, the rest of that money often goes back to large conglomerates or chain retailers that don’t always use that money ethically.

It’s much easier to decide when not to buy a book. I don’t spend money on textbooks unless absolutely necessary, I won’t buy novels written by authors who I don’t feel comfortable supporting, and I do not buy books from chain retailers unless I can’t find them anywhere else. 

Reading and book collecting does not have to be as expensive as it is. While we should do our best to support local businesses and small bookstores, some of us have to ball on a budget. If you want to read for free, always consult your local library first. Libraries are the backbone of society, and a major resource for college students. If you haven’t taken advantage of them, you need to. You can also find some books for free online, especially textbooks. While there are questions of whether or not people should do that, sometimes there are authors you just don’t want to support (I’m looking at you JK Rowling). Additionally, college textbooks are expensive, so you should never feel bad for finding them for free if you can. I can’t even begin to tell you how many of my professors have openly encouraged students to find the source materials online for free. 

For book collecting, I cannot stress enough how wonderful second hand shopping is. There are a lot of wonderful bookstores that sell secondhand books. Additionally, thrift stores are also great places to look! Second hand shopping is also a great way to buy books written by authors that you don’t feel comfortable supporting but would still like to read anyway. 

There is no concrete or specific answer as to when and where you should get your books. At the end of the day, just buy a book when it’s beneficial for you, support the authors you love, and utilize your local library as much as you can.

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