Nowadays, college textbooks are getting extremely expensive. Books for core classes like math and science can easily exceed $100 each. This doesn’t even include other subjects, readers, and upper division classes that require specialized books. With multiple semesters or quarters a year with different required books each time, these costs can easily become overwhelming.
- Buy used instead of New
There is essentially no difference between a new book and a used one as long as the text is legible (which it is assumed to be unless explicitly stated when being sold). The price difference however, is significant. Used books are obviously much cheaper, and selling back a new book would most likely not be able to recover as much of the cost, since demand for more expensive books is lower.
- Buy Online instead of in Store
Bookstores have decent prices, but there is a lot less competition, especially in ones run by the university itself. In contrast, there is much more competition online so it’s easier to find lower prices. The downside is that you need to plan ahead since shipping can take a week or more depending on the seller’s location.
Amazon is a good place to start since they are popular for casual, individual sellers (like other students), and most people are familiar with it. It’s not uncommon for them to have the lowest prices either.
Abebooks.com is my other favorite since it’s a marketplace where many bookstores list their stock. A good way to search is to copy and paste the ISBN number into the front page box to ensure the results are the exact edition you need. Just take note of the location of the seller to avoid buying one from another country like India and not getting the book in time when you need it. Most sellers are US based however. Since it’s a marketplace for booksellers, your books will arrive individually instead of all at together, same as with Amazon.
Chegg.com, Half.com, and eBay.com are also good alternatives. Half.com is owned by eBay but specifically for media like DVDs and Books. Using eBay, you can use cashback services like Ebates to get a percentage of the cost back by check.
- A Note on International Versions
When buying online, some results will be a lot cheaper if it’s marked as the “international version”. An international version is usually the exact same content as the normal version, but it’s cheaper in the quality and production of the print. Legally speaking, it is a gray area whether they can be sold in the US, but there are realistically no consequences for buyers. The only thing to make sure the seller says the content is the exact same in the description, since I’ve heard of some international versions having different problem sets (usually science), and that you carefully word your description if you resell it to an individual online (and sites like Chegg won’t buy back international versions). I’ve even gotten a teacher’s edition when buying from Abebooks which is very helpful in the course, and is usually restricted in circulation.
- Rent instead of Purchasing
Since almost all books are only used for a one quarter or one semester class, it can make sense to rent instead of buy. Many bookstores and sites like Chegg or Barnes & Nobles offer books for rent. The downside is that the price different is very little in most cases and you have to deal with shipping it back instead of having the option to keep it for future reference or selling it back on your own time/when you find the opportunity. This isn’t an option if used in a course series that uses the same book for each level.
- Buy Locally
In one case, I was about to purchase a book but I found out one of my house mates still had his. Make sure you ask around and see. Facebook and other social network sites can be used to find people nearby with the book(s) you need. Facebook has a marketplace feature that allows people to list things like textbooks. Even if none of your friends have the right book, it will still show listings by friends of friends. Having success would result in an easy process of meeting up nearby and exchanging. Craigslist is another option but not as popular, especially for very specific books.
- Consider eBooks
Many places like Barnes & Nobles and Amazon offer textbooks in eBook format at a cheaper price. The downside is that since it’s digital, you’d need to read it on a screen which can be less comfortable to the eyes and less portable. Some people even use an eReader or mass printing service (Kinko’s) to overcome this. The selection of eBooks available is much small however.
- Resell Books
When class is over and all the exams are complete, the textbook is generally of little use. You can recover much of your costs and sometimes even make a profit by reselling it. The easiest sites for reselling are Amazon and Half.com since you just submit your listing alongside everyone else’s. With eBay for example, you need to create your own listing page and find or take photos. Amazon and Half are simple, and both pay by check. Amazon has a waiting period for cashing out earnings on the first sale of new accounts, and Half does payout twice a month. There are many, many other bookstores and sites that offer buy back programs so make sure to check around.
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