How to Get Cheap College Textbooks

How to Get Cheap College Textbooks

Stop Paying So Much For Your Textbooks!

With the school season almost in full swing, students and parents alike are now facing another financial investment. College students, in particular, have to deal with the rising costs of textbooks.

College textbooks are often bulky, but the price just seems heavier in comparison. According to the National Association of College Stores, college textbooks make up more than $600 in expenses every year. Those who major in math and science related courses will find themselves paying a much higher total cost of tuition than those who major in literature and liberal arts because of their textbooks.

Some university students find themselves in a quandary about how the cost of textbooks might end up forcing them to rethinking their majors and alter their path in life. Still, you can’t completely escape the need for textbooks during college.

In order to meet this need and still be able to afford food and housing, you have to find cheap college textbooks.

Why are college textbooks so ridiculously expensive?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that there has been an increase of 812% since 1978 on the price of course materials, which mainly includes textbooks. It’s sad to say, but it’s incredibly easy for college professors to require students to buy textbooks which means students will have to bear the cost of these materials, regardless of how useful (or not) these textbooks will be over the course of the semester.

But to put things in perspective, here is why textbooks are so expensive.

  1. College textbooks are often bundled with supplementary learning materials like CDs and other software which makes the package even more expensive. Students may or may not use these extras, but that doesn’t stop them from inflating textbook prices.
  2. New editions of textbooks are released every 3-4 years, rendering previous editions out of date and hard to find.
  3. There are only few companies in the textbooks industry. This give them more leverage in controlling prices.
  4. Textbooks belong to what is called “broken market.” According to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, there is a disconnect with regards to the supply and demand on textbooks. Professors and instructors choose the textbooks, but don’t have to spend money on them. Students have to buy the textbooks, but zero choice in which book to buy.
  5. Textbooks are expensive to produce. The National Association of College Stores says that out of every dollar spent on purchasing textbook 77 cents go to publishers; 18 cents of which are profit, 15 cents are for marketing and the rest for manpower and production, & 12 cents go to the author for his royalties.

How to Find Cheap College Textbooks

With the ridiculously high cost of textbooks nowadays, they’re are going to dig into your college fund or student loans, but these books are imperative to learning the coursework and passing your classes. so you’ll mostly have to deal with the need and wrestle your way to keep their cost down.

The campus bookstore is the often the most obvious choice when buying textbooks, but it’s not always the most practical. (You and thousands of other students have the same idea at the exact same time.) Fortunately, you don’t always have buy new books and spend hundreds to thousands of dollars. You can get discounted textbooks if you’re will to make some some concessions.

Buy Used

You can buy used books at around 50% less than the price of new ones. Some used books may have wear and tear here and there, but that comes with the package. If you don’t mind your books looking “used” and would rather focus on their usefulness, then that shouldn’t be a problem. You could also find used books in decent shape with enough searching.

You can find used books in your campus bookstore, but there are numerous used books sold on Ebay, Craigslist, and Amazon as well.

If you want to see the condition of the book before the purchase, you can talk to a fellow student a year or semester ahead who is taking the same course as you. Your campus bulletin might also advertise used books being sold by other students.

Get Free Shipping

If you’re shopping for inexpensive textbooks online (especially on Amazon), you can get free shipping on your order by buying all of your books at the same time. Don’t forget, textbooks are big and heavy so shipping can be a significant upcharge. However, if you get free shipping, you only have to worry about the price of the books which can be considerably less than the campus bookstore.

Buy Early

The start of the school season means that textbooks are in demand and this gives publishers massive leverage to raise their prices. If you’re shopping online, you also need to make time for the shipping period which is often slow.

Shopping early gives you more time to check on the books you need and compare their prices to find the best deals. It also gives you more time for shipping and be able to acquire the books you need as early as possible. However, check the booklist provided by the campus or ask your professors to ensure that you’re getting the right books to avoid having to return or buy another one.

Do Your Research

Whether you’re looking to buy new or used books or considering renting, don’t rush it. Do your research so you don’t make costly mistakes.

The ISBN is a very good starting point since each book has a unique ISBN. Simply type the ISBN into Google (or Bing / Yahoo if you’re a sadist) and you’ll find numerous vendors selling those books online. If the ISBN is not generating the results you need, type the complete title, edition, and book’s author.

Shop online and research price aggregator sites like Big Words, Textbook Spyder and Campus Books as well as other vendors like Amazon and Ebay to find the best price. Also, it’s incredibly possible that some students will be dropping or shifting courses and want to sell their books to get their money back. Ask around. Make friends. Find a bulletin board. Check social media. You can find the books you need at a cheapest price if you look in the right places.

Look for Digital Copies

Some books are available in a digital format and this can be ideal if you don’t want lug around a heavy backpack all day or run back to your car between each class. You can find electronic book versions of your required textbooks at 25-50% off the price of brand new books. There are also platforms, such as eTextbooks at Barnes and Noble where you can rent e-books which expire after 180 days. You should remember though that while you can buy or rent e-books, there are typically no buyback programs for digital books.

Use Coupons / Look for Deals

There are a couple of deals and promos during the book buying season so make sure to hunt them down to take advantage of certain perks. There are schools that provide $X to their loyalty cards for buying books at certain amount. While others provide free meals instead of cash discounts or points. Some online retailers also provide coupons for discounts or free shipping.

Buy International Versions

A good way to find cheap college textbooks is keep an eye out for international editions that are priced much lower than American editions. These textbooks are created for non-US students but the content is typically the exact same.

There might be some difference when it comes to material (paperback and cheaper paper material), but it’s typically cosmetic rather than academic. Also remember that most international edition textbooks are not accepted through bookstores’ buyback programs but you might find other students willing to purchase the book from you.

Find an Older Version

Don’t be afraid of purchasing older edition textbooks especially since the differences between the old and new are minimal. You might want to compare the contents of old and new editions of the textbooks you need before making a decision, but the basic differences would be different page numbers and problems. As for the price tag, older editions typically cost 3-5 times less than new editions so that would mean some significant savings. You just have to be prepared hunt down the right page and do some extra research.

Check Locally

The local bookstore offers lower priced textbooks than most major retailers and you don’t have to deal with shipping fees. Also check with the local craigslist, community, or school bulletin for people that are offering textbooks for cheap. You could inquire with an older student that’s taking the same course / major as you and see if they’re willing to sell their books to you.

Go to the Library

The library is always a good option if you’re looking to bring the cost of your textbooks down. Most libraries have a good selection of textbooks for liberal arts and probably limited books on certain majors. Still, you can study in the library or even check the book out if permitted.

Furthermore, if you need just a few chapters to study from a certain textbook in the library, consider photocopying it so you can have the reference handy. Or, scan the pages and upload them into a cloud-based platform like Google Drive or Evernote. Also consider checking if you can take the book out via an inter-library loan. New editions might be limited so check in early or get the previous edition of the book instead.

Share With a Friend

Another good way to cut down the cost of the book in half is to share it with a friend or classmate. You will have to arrange a working schedule so you can use the book fairly, but it undoubtedly works. It’s also a good idea to use the book at the same time and study together.

Perks to Buying Textbooks

Whether you’re buying new, used, older, or international books, it’s simply convenient to be able to own your textbooks. Buying your own textbooks is more expensive than renting them, but it also has its own perks.

  1. You own the book outright. You can do whatever you want with the book such as highlighting or taking notes on it.
  2. You can use the book anytime without waiting for it to be available in the library or borrowing it from another student.
  3. It can be long-term investment especially if you plan to pursue your course and turn it into a career. Some concepts never change and having your own reference book will help a lot in your field.
  4. You can sell the book back and recover some of the amount you spent on purchasing them. You can sell them as used online or through the store’s buyback program. Or you might find another student willing to buy the book once you’re done with the subject or course.

How to Get the Most when Selling Books

Buying books brand new will definitely be a strain on your budget so you might want to sell them later on to recover some of the cash. Follow these tactics and price them appropriately in order to sell your books and get the most cash.

Take care of your books

If you’re going to sell your books at the end of the term, you have to keep them in the best shape throughout the semester. This means flipping through the pages gently, storing them carefully, not taking notes in the margin, and not highlighting important passages. It’s also a good idea to cover them and keep them away from beverages while studying. This way, your books suffer minimal wear and tear and will be in good shape when you go to sell them after your finals.

Use sticky notes instead of writing on the pages

Taking notes on the actual book can be helpful when studying, but those handwritten ideas will lower the book’s value. Use post-it notes and stick them to the appropriate page. Instead of folding pages, you can also use narrower strips of post-its as bookmarks.

Sell them where you can get the best price

The campus bookstore is once again, the most obvious choice, but not always the best. It’s better to sell books where you can control the price such as to a fellow student, through Craigslist, or the local bulletin board. With enough patience, you’ll find the right buyer that’s willing to pay your price.

Research online

A lot of online platforms such as Amazon,, and Chegg have established buyback programs. Look up the book in these platforms to determine their asking price. This way, you’ll be able to set a realistic price for the book.

Perks to Renting Textbooks

Renting books makes sense especially if you’re just using them for a short period. If you’re considering renting some or all of the books you need, here are the benefits:

  1. Renting books is a more economical option than buying books. You can rent books from the campus bookstore and online book rental companies.
  2. Some companies allow you to just rent the chapter(s) that you need, thus driving the cost of the rental down.
  3. You can rent books for as long as you need them. You may opt for monthly/quarterly/semester rentals depending on your need.
  4. It’s also a good idea to just rent books that you know you’re not going to need or use for the long term.

How to Get the Most out of Rental Books

Renting has become a prevalent and economical option in obtaining the required textbooks for your course. If you’re going down this route, here are the most pertinent things to consider:

Choose rental books appropriately

There are certain times when buying books brand new makes sense and then there are instances when it’s wiser to rent. If you’re only going to need the book for just a quarter or semester, it may be better to rent. However, if you’d like to eventually own the book long term or as reference in your field, it’s wiser to buy.

Read the terms and conditions of the rental thoroughly

Some rental companies offer textbooks for rent for a number of days, for a semester, for a whole year or per course. These terms will impact the cost of the rental. If necessary, consult your professor first to determine the need of the book in his class.

Take care of the rental books

You could get charged with fees if the rental company finds that the book wasn’t returned in good condition. To avoid this, you must have to take extra care with rental books so you return them in the exact same condition you got them in.

Ask if you can write or highlight in the book

Most companies allow highlighting and writing on rental books, but do keep it reasonable and realistic. Don’t highlight to the point when contents become difficult to read / study from.

Return the book on or before the due date

Rental companies and bookstores could charge you with late fees even if you’re a day late in returning the book.

Where Can you Find Free College Textbooks

Buying and/or renting books will definitely cost you money. Fortunately, there are a number of platforms offering textbooks for free, most of which come in digitized versions. Take advantage of these sites and scour through its database of free textbooks to get your copy.


Bottom Line

In closing, it’s worth noting that there are now more options for cheap college textbooks than ever. You don’t have to buy books brand new and you’re definitely overpaying for them if you do. Oftentimes, it’s more practical to buy used books, international / older editions, or even e-books. Other times, it makes sense to rent books than buy them. It’s important to not just factor in the price, but also the practicality and usefulness of the books. With the cost of education nowadays, it’s essential to be able to keep certain costs down, like in the case of textbooks, without sacrificing the quality of learning / life.