I've griped about e-book prices many times before, and I remain steadfast in my belief that publishers charge way too much for a product that requires no printing, consumables, shipping, storage (in the traditional sense), or other typical print-book expenses.
Fortunately, there's a way to squeeze a bit more value out of the e-books you do buy: lend them to someone else, then get other loaned books in return.
This is possible thanks to the publishers that allow e-book lending. Not all do, and the terms are pretty limited--each book can be loaned out only once, and for a period of just 14 days--but it's definitely a way to get more bang for your e-book buck.
If you're a Kindle or Nook owner, check your digital library. You'll see that some titles support lending; you just enter the e-mail address of the recipient and presto, off the book goes. (Annoyingly, you can no longer read the book yourself until the loan period expires.)
Of course, this implies that you're lending to someone you know--a friend or family member, for example. By leveraging an e-book matchmaking site, which pairs borrowers with lenders, you vastly increase the pool of titles available for you to borrow.
I've rounded up four such services. With all them, you simply sign up for a free membership (preferably using the same e-mail address that's associated with your Amazon or Barnes & Noble account), then list the loan-able books from your digital library. With that done, you can browse or search for e-books available for borrowing. It's all pretty simple and straightforward once you get the hang of it.
1. BookLending.com This polished site pairs Kindle borrowers with Kindle lenders. Unfortunately, I didn't find many of the popular e-books common on other sites, including "The Help" and "Water for Elephants." Indeed, my search for the former revealed a link to "ask the publisher to make this book lendable," when it clearly already is.
2. eBookFling eBookFling is the only service here that's not free, instead relying on a credit system: to borrow a book, you have to lend a book. (You do get one free credit for signing up.) However, it supports both Kindle and Nook users, and it keeps your identity and e-mail address private. Also, the selection is among the best I've seen.
3. Lending eBook This free service caters to Kindle and Nook owners alike. However, it's one of the smaller lending communities, with slightly more than 1,000 books available for borrowing (as of this writing). That said, it has plenty of good titles, including "The Help," "The Hunger Games," and the Steve Jobs biography.
4. Lendle Another Kindle-only site, Lendle pays you a small credit every time you loan a book. When you accrue $10 in credits, you get a $10 Amazon gift card. That's a nice added incentive to loan as many e-books as possible. (Doing so also earns you "borrow requests" so you can borrow other books.)
Because all four services offer free membership, there's no harm in signing up for more than one--especially if you're trying to borrow a particular book that's not available the first place you look.
If you have a preference when it comes to lending services, hit the comments and let me know which one and why.