As a book-hungry graduate student whose money is a precious commodity, it's not surprising that I am loathe to walk into Borders and buy a brand new book. If the book is older I would rather haunt used book stores, comb through the hundreds of sometimes boring titles, and pick the one gem ensconced among them which others' eyes have not noticed. Needless to say, this gnaws away at another one of a graduate student's precious commodity- time.
However, another option is Amazon's used books service. I was hesitant to use this but was finally egged on to try out a few titles. My conditions were simple: spines should be intact, and there should be absolutely no underlining or highlighting inside. The rules are pretty simple too: go for sellers offering books whose condition is marked "very good" or better, who have at least a 97% rating and who have been selling at least for a year or so. Most importantly, buy ex-library books if they are available; the seller will usually indicate this explicitly. These books get you the biggest bang for your buck. They are usually wrapped in plastic with the tender loving care characteristic of many public libraries, their dust jackets are usually firm and intact, and they may have some library stamps on the first page or on the sides.
But if these simple rules are satisfied, then ex-lib books can be better than even brand new books. Consider that hardbacks usually cost no less than 18-20$. So if I do end up buying new books, I buy paperbacks whenever they are available. Paperbacks cost between 10-15$. Now consider ex-lib books which I have gotten for about 3$ on average. Even with the shipping it comes to 7-8$. A well-protected hardcover ex-lib book warmly clasped with a plastic-covered dust jacket beats a brand new paperback even if the hardcover is a few years older.
Until now I have had a great experience ordering these ex-lib hardcovers from Amazon. Starting about six months ago, I have already ordered about 30 of these and have been satisfied 99% of the time. There may have been one or two which looked none the worse for wear, but in their defence, they were selling for 20 cents apiece. There's a limit to what you can expect.
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