For our online bookstore buying guide, we scoured U.S. bookstores, including large chain stores and small, independently owned companies. We selected companies that offer a large inventory, including myriad book genres, formats and conditions.
While the inventory of each retailer varies and changes over time, we eliminated stores with limited inventories. We included companies that sell books through third-party sellers. This allows booksellers to work with retailers to sell their personal inventory of used, rare or collectible books. And it allows book seekers to easily find specialized books, such as first editions, signed books, or even out-of-print or banned books. For more information about online bookstores, take a look at our other articles.
From our initial list of online bookstores, we distilled our buying guide down to the standouts. Here is what we found:
Best Overall Inventory
If you are looking for all types of books, whether new or used, Amazon is the best. This online bookstore provides one of the largest inventories. It not only provides the latest book releases, but you can find signed copies, out-of-print books, digital books and textbooks. Amazon makes searching through its vast inventory simple. You can look though the most popular books, award winners, bargain books or best sellers. You can also filter by categories and subjects to help you find exactly what you are looking for.
Amazon.com is probably the best-known name in the online bookstore industry – and with good reason, it is the largest online retailer. This company provides an extensive inventory of books ranging from bargain books, children's books, textbooks and digital books. In addition, the website is extremely simple and easy to use, with numerous search features so finding any particular book is no hassle.
Best for Used Books
If you want used or rare books, you need to expand your search outside of large-chain bookstores. Online bookstores, such as Alibris, operate differently than large retailers.
Alibris operates exclusively through third-party booksellers. This means that when you buy a book, you are actually buying it from an independent online bookseller. Most of its booksellers sell used, rare and collectible items.
By working with independent booksellers, Alibris has access to a larger inventory and provides customers more options for used and rare books. Plus, if there are multiple copies of a specific book in the company's inventory, you can choose which copy you want, thus ensuring you get exactly what you want for your money.
Best for Textbooks
Getting an education is not cheap and, unfortunately, buying textbooks is an expensive necessity. Many online bookstores provide textbooks at lower costs to help you save money; however, not all of them carry the exact textbook you may need.
ValoreBooks exclusively sells textbooks. They specialize in textbooks for all subjects and can provide older, less-expensive editions. Furthermore, the company allows students to sell their textbooks back to the company, so the inventory can grow and vary throughout the year.
If you don't want to buy textbooks from ValoreBooks, you can rent the book for a lower cost. However, you have to return the book at the end of the rental period or you're charged an additional fee.
ValoreBooks is different than many other online bookstores in our buying guide: It exclusively sells textbooks. While this limits the company's inventory, if you are looking to save money on textbooks, you have a large selection of titles available, plus it offers rentals and buybacks.
An important aspect of any online bookstore is its search capabilities. If the retailer doesn't provide an easy, convenient way to browse through the inventory and find the books you need, it's a waste of your time.
The best online book retailers offer search bars in a conspicuous place on the website where you can search by author, title or even ISBN. Most companies also allow you to filter searches by categories and subjects, so you can narrow your search to books that are interesting or fit the type of genre you desire.
Some may offer advanced search capabilities so you can narrow down your search even more. With this feature, you can search by publisher, publishing date and release date. You may even filter results based on the book's condition, binding or special attributes, such as signed copies, first edition, etc.
If you order a lot of books throughout the year or large, heavy hardcover books, your order can reflect hefty shipping costs. You don't want to pay high shipping costs to ship your books to your doorstep. Thankfully, retailers are aware of this and provide shipping incentives.
Some retailers have a minimum purchase requirement where once you meet that minimum, you receive free shipping on your entire order. Other companies have certain books that are eligible for free shipping. Many companies, to help keep your costs low, provide a flat fee for standard shipping. However, if you want your order fast, you'll have to pay additional fees for expedited shipping. Also, be aware some companies may charge you more for shipping larger orders or heavier books. Read the company's shipping policies first before placing your order to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Furthermore, brush up on the bookseller's return policy. Some companies will not accept returns for certain books, such as out-of-print books. If you buy from companies that work with third-party booksellers, some booksellers will not accept returns at all. Finally, if you can return your books, be aware of whether you're required to pay return shipping costs or if the company will provide a pre-paid label for you. If you must pay for shipping costs, consider the size and weight of the book, because it may cost you more to return the book than you originally paid for it.
Whether you're looking to add a few specific books or several to your personal library, you can explore history or venture into new worlds reading book after book available from the online bookstores in our buying guide.