Students spend thousands on textbooks. It doesn’t matter what field you’re studying. Literature? You’ve got to buy thirty-five novels for every class. Science or math major? Textbooks for these classes routinely cost upwards of $100. But, there are ways to get ahead of the curve on textbooks, and great ways to save money. Here’s a look at a few of the sites you can use to buy books on the cheap.
There are a few things to remember when buying textbooks from places other than your college or university bookstore. By buying elsewhere, you can save massive amounts. But, you lose the sure bet of buying exactly the right edition. The safest way to avoid this problem is to head to the campus bookstore and jot down the ISBN numbers (available on the bar code) for every book in all of your classes. Do this ahead of time if you can, this way you don’t have to worry about falling behind while you wait for texts to arrive in the mail. Armed with these numbers, start shopping around these sites for the best prices.
Google “textbooks,” and you’re bound to find this site at the top of the search results. In addition to tons of offerings on new and used titles, Textbooks.com also allows you to rent texts. In this scenario, you pay a flat fee to hold onto the book for the length of the semester, and then return the book. For example, one mathematics text sells on the site for around $100 new, $71 used, and a four-month rental for $45.
Among the biggest names in online book retailers, Amazon sells textbooks at up to 30% off new titles and 90% off used titles. A membership with Amazon Student comes with free shipping for a year. There’s no sign up cost: You just sign up with your name, major, and .edu email address.
A huge name in both brick and mortar book shops and online retail, Barnes and Noble also sells college texts at discounts. They also buy and rent textbooks.
Half.com is an eBay sister site. Instead of auctions, sellers offer up their items at a flat rate. You can find all manner of media and other items for sale on Half.com: CDs, DVDs, and textbooks.
This relative newcomer to the online textbook market focuses on rentals. They boast savings of around 70% when compared to buying new.
When considering rental programs, make sure you’re using an apt comparison. Rather than comparing the rental price against the new or used price, compare it against that price minus the average buyback amount. In the Textbooks.com example above, a rental seems like a bargain. But, if you can buy the book used for $71 and sell it yourself for a similar amount, you’d wind up $26 in the hole.
When it comes time to sell your books back at semester’s end, don’t feel any loyalty to the store you bought the book from. See which retailers are offering top dollar for your titles. And, remember that you’ll probably get the best prices from sites where you are the direct seller to the buyer, such as Half.com or the Amazon marketplace. These sites make their money from sales fees, rather than markup. Other sites have to buy the book from you at a low enough amount to leave room to sell them at a profit.
Also, don’t disregard your campus bookstore as a place to sell your books back. This writer once bought a mathematics textbook for $40 and sold it back to the campus bookstore for over $60. (Yes, you read right: sometimes you can actually make money selling your books back.) Just make sure you remove any price tags from other stores. Otherwise, the sell-back can get awkward.
There are also ways around getting books for certain classes. You may be able to find novels and literary works at libraries, and your friends might be able to loan you books they decided to hold onto. Don’t be afraid to give these methods a try. Regardless of where you buy and sell books, remember the golden rule of saving: shop around. Check multiple sellers for the book you want, and find the cheapest price. Sell the book to the store that will offer the most for it. That’s the surest way to keep your book costs under budget.
Published or updated February 16, 2013.