Textbook Mania

Pay little or nothing for your textbooks

Textbook prices are always on the rise!

With recent trends in college textbooks showing a steady rise in cost, students have been looking for ways to decrease the amount of money they spend on textbooks and supplies each semester. Professors often require the newest editions for their courses making used textbooks hard to find. Campus bookstores are the most convenient source of textbooks because they usually have everything you need but more often than not, they are also the most expensive. Despite this, there are many ways to avoid paying exorbitant prices for college textbooks.

  • Search publisher and companion websites
  • Textbook rentals
  • Purchase an older edition
  • Join a group where books you don't need can be swapped
  • Browse the web, classified ads etc. for used copies
  • Form a study group. Each person can then contribute to purchasing 1 group copy of the book.
  • Search the reference section of your school library

Let's explore the options.

Ways to save money on textbooks

Check Publisher Websites

More and more websites and publishers are making textbooks available online free of charge or for a fraction of the cost of a physical copy. Some sites let you download the textbook as a pdf document while others let you view the textbook online with a few periodic ads from sponsors. Doing a simple online search for “free college textbooks” yields tons of these free sites. One of our favorites is Textbook Revolution which is a site run by students dedicated to finding all sources of free textbooks online and bringing them together in one place. In the past, sites such as Textbook Media would allow you to read textbooks online with periodic “study breaks” that featured ads from their sponsors. However, many of these sites are converting to paid sites that give multiple options for viewing, downloading and/or printing but you may find that the book selection is limited.

Rent Textbooks

As an alternative to purchasing, you can always rent your textbooks for the semester and save up to 90% off the retail price. If ordering a physical copy that will be mailed to you, be sure to place your order a week or so before classes begin to allow for delays in transit. Many textbooks are now being offered as eBooks so you may be able to rent digital textbooks for use on your pc, tablet or phone and avoid the shipping fees. Some of our favorite rental websites include eCampus.com, CampusBookRentals, Chegg, Amazon Textbook Rentals and BookRenter. We found that the first two often had the cheapest prices but be sure to read the rental terms carefully when comparing the costs. Rental companies often charge for shipping and most have additional fees for late returns. Also pay attention to whether the company offers some sort of guarantee of free replacement for books that are missing pages or get damaged during shipping. Ask whether you can write or highlight on the pages of the rented book. Finally, be aware that any supplementary materials such as DVDs, CDs and access codes etc. may not be included with the rental which might be problematic if they are required for your course.

Find Older Editions

Nothing beats finding a used copy for a bargain but what if your course requires a newly released first or new edition textbook that has very limited used copies? If the textbook is a newer edition try purchasing the older edition. I have found that not much changes between editions so compare your copy to the professor’s or ask a classmate who bought the new edition to borrow theirs for a few minutes. Compare the two copies for any added chapters or pages that may have been moved around or eliminated. Do this during the first week of class when there might still be the possibility of returning your copy if the difference are too much to cope with. If only the exercises have changed, you can try asking a fellow classmate if you could jot down the questions you need. Offering a small cash incentive usually works well for classmates hesitant to share a book they coughed up big bucks for and this is still cheaper than buying the new version. A good place to start when looking for used textbooks is Cheapest Textbooks because they search multiple sites so you can find the best price.

Use Book Swaps

In addition to searching for used copies or finding free textbooks online, consider joining a group that lets students swap books for free. Many students hold on to their old textbooks because the sell value is so much less than what they paid for the textbook. Instead of posting last semester’s books for sale try visiting a site like swap.com or Title Trader where you can trade textbooks and other types of media. Be aware that there are a few sites that charge a small fee for each swap you make so shop around and read site policies before you choose a place to swap your books.

Find Used Copies

Lastly, some colleges feature their own classified ads where students can post their books for sale. For example, while I was at the University of South Florida they featured a section online on Blackboard for students to post both “for sale” and “wanted” ads for textbooks and old notes. Check on campus message boards frequently and be sure to post a wanted ad of your own. Do this as soon as you know your schedule and the textbooks required as it may take some time to get a response or find the textbook you are looking for. Online classified sites like Craigslist are also great places to search. These are all great sources of used textbooks because you can often find a better deal than online plus you can get a better price for the books you have for sale.

Share Cost with Classmates

Sometimes, you may not be given the option of purchasing used. Say for instance, your textbook is a first edition so there are no older editions or used copies available. Maybe your professor requires a bundle with supplementary lab materials or access codes only available with new copies of the textbook. Whatever the case may be, if you have no choice but to purchase a new copy, try to organize 2 or 3 students in your class who may be willing to contribute and purchase the textbook as a group. That way you can each pay only a fraction of the cost. Avoid forming groups of more than 4 people because it obviously gets more difficult to share, the more people you add to the group. However, one great benefit is that you now have a nice little study group that can share notes and benefit from each other’s knowledge.

Borrow from Library

This is one of the most overlooked sources, probably because it is the most competitive. If your textbook is available in the library, there'll be probably only a couple copies in the reference section. This means that you can only check them out for a few hours or days at a time. Some college libraries rely on the professors to request that a copy of the course textbook be made available in the reference section so don't expect all your textbooks to be there but it is definitely worth the time to check. Don't forget to check your local public library!

Final Tips...

If you are awarded Financial Aid and have funds remaining after all tuition and fees are applied, the balance on your account can be used to purchase textbooks and other course materials. Funds are typically made available for use on the first day of classes for that semester and can only be used at the college bookstore so you can't use them off campus, say at your local Barnes and Noble. To help with the cost of textbooks each semester, don't forget to check out your school's bookstore for a buy-back program. You can sell your used copies of last semester's books to get back a portion of the amount you paid. To earn back even more, consider listing them in online classifieds or on websites like eBay or Amazon. Be careful not to fall into the trap of collecting too many books for future reference in your career rather than turning them into cash now. Not only do many students go on to work in a field completely outside their field of study, you may find yourself like myself ... decades later with a ton of dusty and untouched books taking up space in the basement. The most important thing to remember is: be patient. Take your time and exhaust all resources before purchasing your textbook new if you have to.

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