How Used Bookstores Can Lead You to Thrifty Finds

Updated April 18, 2022
woman looking at book in used book store

Whether you're looking for a copy of a beloved childhood favorite, an out of print cookbook, or a best seller with a low price tag, a great place to shop is a used bookstore. Most of these stores offer a wide variety of books in various genres, price ranges, and conditions, and some even carry antique or collectible books. Whether you're loyal to the brick-and-mortar experience or you love curating your used finds online, there's no right or wrong way to explore a used bookstore.

Common Used Bookstores to Purchase From

stack of antique books

By far the easiest way to find used books is to search for them on the internet, but with so many retailers out there, it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. So, it's up to you to find the online bookstores that connect most to you, and these are just a sampling of the many online used bookstores out there,

Abe Books

Abebook's search engine allows you to search for books by title, date, author, and publisher as well as by first edition and other criteria. It claims to be the worlds "largest online marketplace for books" and has a user-friendly site, curating its experience from its business links to Amazon. Their offerings include new, used or out-of-print books, and textbooks.

Alibris

Alibris carries all kinds of books and media, including out of print items that you can browse through on their website.

Biblio

If you're looking for rare or antiquarian books, then Biblio is absolutely the place for you. They've been in the digital business since 2000 and have thousands of unique finds currently for sale.

Powell's Books

The inventory at Powell's Books consists of used books in 60 subject areas ranging from popular titles to out-of-print classics. The company has six retail stores in the Portland, Oregon area, and every title offered at their retail locations is available online. In addition, Powell's purchases used books online, sends email updates of books that are highly sought after, and offers newsletters.

Powell's Bookstore Chicago

Powell's Bookstore in Chicago is in no way related to the Powell's books in Oregon. There're two Powell's in Chicago and the stores primarily specialize in academic and scholarly tomes, including a good collection on medieval studies and classics. Shop in the store or online at your convenience.

Better World Books

Better World Books has more than eight million used and new titles available in 36 popular categories. The company donates a portion of each book sale to fund literacy initiatives worldwide. Worldwide free shipping on standard delivery times is always available.

Curio Corner Books

Although Curio Corner Books has books in dozens of categories, their specialty covers several areas including cookbooks, Texas history, genealogy, Americana, and more.

Half Price Books

Half Price Books is one, if not the only, chain store of its kind that's found in many parts of the United States. They carry used and antique books, magazines, and video games on all subjects. The store also buys old books for either cash or store credit.

Iliad Books

Iliad Books is located in Los Angeles, California and carries over 100,000 used books. They specialize in books on literature and the arts, but also carry items on many other subjects.

Rereadables

With more than 30,000 titles in over 30 categories, Rereadables offers customers books priced as low as fifty cents each. The company also takes special requests for specific books, if you have something in mind. Rereadables provides a search service for hard to find, out of print, and used books. If they don't have the book you're searching for in their online inventory, they'll search their offline inventory and additional bookstores.

The Strand

The Strand is located in New York City and has been in business since 1927. It boasts over 18 miles of new and used books, and you can shop both in the store and from the comfort of your computer keyboard.

Cornerstone Used Books

Cornerstone Used Books carries more than 50,000 titles in over 100 categories of used and new books in their online inventory; however, their online inventory doesn't include the books that they have in their retail location in Villa Park, Illinois. Additionally, the company also sells out of print and hard to find books.

Tips for Bringing Home the Best Used Books Online

If you're new to purchasing used books, especially if you've never purchased them online before, then you might feel a bit overwhelmed by the possibilities out there. Of course, the internet can be an absolutely scary place, but so long as you follow a few tips and tricks from book buying phenoms, then you'll have no problem getting a slam dunk every time you buy.

  • Check the return policy - First and foremost, when buying books online, you need to check the return policy just in case the books you receive aren't exactly what you thought they'd turn out to be.
  • Don't always buy the cheapest copy - The cheapest copies aren't always the best investments when it comes to used books. Since they've already gone through multiple hands, it's a good idea to not always gravitate towards the cheapest editions, but rather the ones that seem fairly priced in a good condition.
  • If possible, purchase from small businesses first - Not every local bookshop is going to have their own e-commerce platform for you to purchase used books, but you should check in with those bookshop owners to see if they have an online option so that you can support them from far away.
  • Read the reviews - You need to read the reviews of whoever you're buying books from especially if you're buying used books from a larger platform and not an independent store owner, as they might seem like the best seller but turn out to be a nightmare.
  • Keep in mind that prices are usually fixed - While you might be able to haggle with used book store owners over the prices of their editions, this isn't something that's usually an option when it comes to online retailers. So, if you seriously disagree with their pricing, you'll have to find a copy of whatever book you're interested in somewhere else.

How to Shop for Used Books Locally

used bookstore shop

Nowadays, it seems to be harder and harder to find in-person book stores and retailers that sell used books. When you do come across those rare gold mines, it can be a euphoric experience and create a lifelong friendship between bibliophiles. However, if you've not had any luck shopping for a used book in your area, then there are still a few tricks you can employ to find that idyllic bookstore of your dreams.

  • Ask a librarian - Libraries aren't just for checking out books, they can also be for finding ones to buy. Since they deal with books and book lovers all day, your local librarian might be able to give you the hookup for some up-and-coming bookstores in your area.
  • Don't be afraid to travel - Unfortunately, not every hometown is going to have a used bookstore that's within walking distance. So, if you're really dedicated to finding books in-person, then you should be prepared to travel a little ways to find a quality book store (in some cases).
  • Network on social media - Book lovers can't get enough of social media and are constantly sharing their newest finds, favorite spots, and secret hacks on their platforms. Whether you like longform or shortform content best, there's a thriving community of bibliophiles who can help direct you to the best used bookstores in your area.

Best Browsing Tips to Find New Titles Fast

Shopping for books in an independent retailer can get overwhelming for even the most seasoned bibliophiles. However, there's a few ways to hack the browsing system at these stores that're stuffed full of books.

  • Get ready to haggle - While the best type of used book store sells their wares for nominal costs, there are some who want to up charge their goods. When it comes to those, you shouldn't be afraid to try to negotiate on prices, as small bookstores are more likely to be willing to meet you halfway than corporate bookstores will.
  • Ask about trade-ins and store credit - Another benefit of shopping locally is that some bookstores will let you trade-in old titles for store credit that you can use on new (old) books. If you plan on making trips back to a specific used bookstore, ask an employee what their policy is on trade-ins, and see if you can make room for some new titles in your collection.
  • Stick to a specific author or genre when browsing - Massive bookstores like the iconic Strand in New York City are overwhelming at the best of times and impossible to navigate at the worst. While you may not be able to control how bookshop owners choose to organize their stores, you can make your trip easier by only focusing on a minute section of the store at every visit. Conquering just 19th century Romantic poets is totally doable in a miles-long location.
  • Look at the book carts for specific titles - If you're trying to shop for a specific title and you can't seem to find it on the shelves, there's a chance that someone picked it up and set it out of place. If this happened, the books might be on book carts that the employees are using to reintegrate removed books into their proper places.
  • There's treasure hidden behind the first row - Often in smaller used bookstores, owners economize on space by double or triple stacking their inventory. If you find yourself in one of these stores, make sure to pull out some of the first row to see the hidden books that lay behind.

Always Get More for Less

Used bookstores prove that it's totally possible to get more for less; you can find all sorts of unique things from first editions, out of print books, rare editions, and funky vintage finds at these online and in-person retailers. Take the time to browse through their collections and see which titles really catch your eye, but don't worry, their low prices will have you buying every book you can get your hands on.

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