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Having spent 7 years in college and law school, I can testify to the fact that there are three major problems with college textbooks: (1) they require the harvesting of a lot of trees to produce, (2) they are a pain to cart around, and (3), they cost a fortune. At least one company, CourseSmart.com, is trying to address all three of these drawbacks by offering cheap college textbooks online in the form of ebooks. Well, “cheap” may be a bit of an exaggeration, but half-price for textbooks that can in hardcover run $1,000 or more per school year is worth checking out.

I first heard of CourseSmart through the good folks at the Dollar Stretcher. CourseSmart allows students to buy textbooks in the form of ebooks. The ebooks can either be viewed online through CourseSmart, or students can download the ebook and view it through free software provided by CourseSmart.

CourseSmart currently offers more than 7,000 textbooks in over 900 courses. And the online viewer offers some great functionality. Students can highlight the text online, take notes online, and of course search the full text of the ebook. In addition, the page numbering of the ebook is the same as the hard copy version, so there is no confusion when a professor references a specific page. And pages can be printed if necessary.

Naturally the big question is exactly how much will CourseSmart save a student on textbooks. So to compare prices with Amazon, I picked an Algebra textbook called College Algebra with Applications for Business and Life Sciences, Enhanced Edition. Amazon offers the book new for $156.95 and used for $119.00. The CourseSmart price for the ebook version is $78.49. And if you’re curious what the etextbooks look like online, you can preview the textbooks at CourseSmart.

Finally, here’s a video CourseSmart put together to describe how textbooks can be viewed online.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 1080
Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Article comments

Matt says:

Can you sell the etextbooks back after your done using them? If not this might not be such a great deal after all. I was generally able to keep my textbook costs pretty low by buying and selling at different stores/websites at different times.

DR says:

Matt, you raise a valid point. Because they are ebooks, I don’t believe they can be sold back, and this should be factored into the textbook buying decision. When I was in college (President Reagan was in office), there were always one or two books that I couldn’t sell back because they were no longer being used. Others I could sell back for about 40%-50% of the original price. Either way, it’s a factor worth considering. Thanks for pointing it out.

Craig says:

I wish I had this option in college. Textbooks are so expensive, could have helped out a lot.

J. Scott Allen says:

You can also try using http://www.bigwords.com They are a textbook search engine that searches all the online retailers to find you the best price. You can even specify when you want to search for new, used or both!

Melissa says:

I save money by buying my textbooks online, maybe one day I’ll do ebooks but for now I prefer to actually have my textbooks, use http://www.cheapesttextbooks.com they are really good.

Monica says:

I like that eBooks are cheaper and eco-friendly, but they aren’t useful for some subjects or classes. I use http://www.campusbooks.com because they have eBooks, used books, and rentals all on one site so I can pick the format that makes sense based on the class I am taking. They also do buyback. I like doing everything on one site.

Debater says:

How much is the average cost of an e-book?

bubba says:

What everyone here fails to mention is that you are not buying anything from CourseSmart – you are purchasing a subscription in order to access the book; let the subscription lapse and you lose access to the book.

Hmmm, I wonder what coursesmart gave Dougroller to leave that salient point out?

DR says:

Hey bubba, just because you have a different point of few, don’t assume Coursesmart gave me anything. I think it’s a great idea, and they didn’t pay me a dime. Your opinions here are welcomed, but your false accusations are not.

Rita Morris says:

I am currently using Coursesmart for most of my text book needs. Although there are some that are not available through their services. I have found them convenient and affordable. I am a bibliophile, so my home almost every nook and cranny in my house if filled with books. I have run out of space, so hence this is a great option. My step daughter is currently taking classes also, she is now in her own place but she knows how to accesses my texts, so that even if her required reading is not the same as mine, she can use them as supplemental research material, if we shared a traditional book this would not be such an easy option.

cary says:

would i save more money buying the ebook or buying books online without it?

DR says:

Cary, I suspect the ebook would be the cheaper alternative, but it could vary from one textbook to the next. You also have to consider how much you could sell the book back for.

Brandon says:

I think coursesmart’s product doesn’t live up to the hype. They have incredible hang times and is far from efficient. Moreover, as many others have mentioned here earlier, you are not buying anything. You’re simply paying for access to a book for a limited amount of time. I used coursesmart for a summer class and for week during the regular semester and found it to be a waist of time. A lot of time. I will never use them again. Moreover, their customer service is atrocious. When I got on their “live chat” to ask them about hang times, I was simply told it’s working, must be on my end. Kind of hard to swallow when I’m running off my school’s LAN everyday.

Roland says:

Great post DR – not something a lot of new students would consider. I’m more inclined to actually have the textbook in front of me (fewer distractions that way) and found that at http://www.collegebookrenter.com/ you can rent your text books as well as buy or sell for either credit or cash.

kodi says:

Not every ebook purchase gives you an access code for eresource. Course Smart won’t refund your money if you find out later you need this eresource for class but find that the publisher offers the ebook free with the access code purchase. Making your ebook purchase useless. I would recommend to purchase from the publisher directly. I learned the hard way when I bought an ebook through coursesmart and though I had thought it included the eresources such as the development portal access code it did not and you cannot purchase this through coursesmart. The publisher tech support will not back them if you are unhappy. Coursemart would do nothing to reimburse me, I was told they don’t offer the access code I needed. I now have to purchase the ebook through the publisher and purchase an access code for an eresource that should have been part of my purchase through coursemart but wasn’t.