The price tags on college textbooks are rising just as fast as tuition costs.
For a single course, a student may spend over $200 on required reading materials, yet only use the book for one semester.
But because many courses do not require students to have a new copy of the text, students’ preference for cost-efficient alternatives has given rise to the growing market for used college textbooks.
This increased demand has motivated many book suppliers to offer used textbook and rental services, leaving college students with an array of options
How to Find Cheap Textbooks
Visit College Bookstores
Most university bookstores sell new and used textbooks, in addition to providing semester-long rental services.
Renting a textbook from the bookstore is the cheapest option, but as with any rented or borrowed textbook, students do not have the option of writing in the margin or taking notes.
The used textbooks are in good or like-new condition, so the prices on used books may be higher than elsewhere.
Additionally, students who have just completed a course and have a textbook in good condition can sell the textbook back to the bookstore and receive compensation to put towards next semester’s textbooks.
Check Out The College Libraries
College library systems have several copies of most course textbooks. If borrowing from the library system, reserve the textbook before the start of the semester to ensure access to the book.
Many college libraries are part of an inter-library system, so if the school does not have the book, it can be requested from another college.
Use Social Media To Find Cheap College Textbooks
Social media sites, such as Facebook, offer various means of procuring textbooks.
In addition to Facebook’s expanding Marketplace feature where users can buy and sell items in their communities, students can enter their student email address into their college’s Facebook network and gain access to various school-specific buy and sell groups for textbooks.
You may find the best prices at the end of the semester, when students want to sell their textbooks before they pack up and leave for break.
The prices vary from seller to seller, but are likely lower in price than used textbooks from bookstores.
The only caveat is that you make sure the edition the student may be selling is the one you will need.
Online Textbook Vendors
Online vendors like Amazon offer an array of textbooks in various conditions and price ranges, with the option to buy and rent. Rentals are the cheapest option that Amazon provides, but for students preferring to annotate their books, it is easy to find used textbooks onwith comparable prices to their rental fees.
Amazon allows you to rent for a semester and, depending on the seller, it also allows customers to return unsatisfactory used textbooks.
For any rented textbook, students have 30 days to return. Additionally, Amazon offers a Kindle edition of many textbooks.
Chegg Books offers rental services similar to Amazon’s.
Both online vendors offer up to 90% off on textbook rentals.
Chegg allows renters to highlight in their textbook, but refrain from writing, whereas Amazon specifies that there can be no excessive writing or highlighting in the textbook upon return.
Chegg provides free shipping on orders over $50 and Amazon has free shipping for orders over $35.
Otherwise, their selection of textbooks and price ranges are comparable. Both companies also allow students to sell their used textbooks to the company.
College Textbook Formats Vary In Price
Textbook companies offer textbooks in various formats that are more cost efficient than bound, hardback textbooks.
Paperback textbooks are cheaper, but are a less common textbook format.
Loose-leaf editions are three-hole-punched so they can be placed in a binder, and are often more than half the price of bound editions.
Additionally, many companies offer digital versions of their publications that can be read on a tablet or computer, and are often cheaper than loose-leaf editions. It is also important to consider whether a course requires students to have the newest editions of textbooks, as older editions drop in price over time.
Resources To Price Compare College Textbooks
There are various free websites that allow students to enter the textbook’s ISBN number and generate a list of price comparisons from various online book vendors.
Keep in mind, however, that book comparison sites don’t often track every possible outlet through which you can find a book.
This is a good place for students to start their research. Textsurf.com offers both price comparison as well as price quotes for students who are interested in selling their old textbooks.
SluggBooks.com also offers this service, in addition to a feature that allows students to compare prices of multiple books at the same time, as well as tips for saving money on online access code bundles.
Additional suggestions from members of our Paying For College 101 Facebook group:
For purchasing college textbooks, check out Abe Books.
To compare prices for buying and renting, check out Book.ly.
Check the Gates Foundation Open Stax for access to free openly sourced college textbooks.
One parent in the group cautions,
“Double check with the professor that the textbook is actually needed.
My daughter had a class or two where the professor used online text, PowerPoint presentations, and handouts – just because the book is listed for the class does not 100% mean they need it.”
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