I often refer to textbooks as “a necessary evil”. They are usually necessary in that most professors list them as a course requirement. The text is often used as the foundation for the course while the professor individualizes the course based on their own expertise and body of knowledge. Textbooks, however, can be very expensive with price tags as much as $200 for a single book. As consumers, you have options when it comes to purchasing textbooks…it’s the American way! Check out the following tips and web resources before you purchase your books.
DID YOU KNOW? The U.S Government Accountability Office reported that college textbook prices increased at twice the rate of inflation between 1986 and 2004.
The following suggestions are written by Laura T. Coffey
1. Beat the crowds. Your on-campus bookstore is your simplest and fastest route for finding the books you need, but it also can be the most expensive. That said, you may be able to save a little bit of money by arriving at the store as early as possible — the minute you get your list of required books —so you can snatch up used copies.
2. Use ISBN numbers to comparison shop. While at the on-campus bookstore, write down ISBN numbers and prices for both new and used books, and then use that information to shop around online. Check prices on the Web sites of Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, eBay, efollet.com and CengageBrain.com. To save time, comparison shopping sites such as book.ly or SwoopThat can be incredibly helpful. Book.ly is great because it focuses so specifically on textbooks in all formats, and SwoopThat is convenient because it quickly allows you to compare prices for the books you’ll need based on the courses you’re taking. Another good comparison shopping site is BestBookBuys.com.
3. Kiss print books goodbye. A recent study by NACS OnCampus Research revealed that 75 percent of students still prefer print textbooks, even though e-books on Kindle, iPad and other platforms are constantly growing in popularity. Yes, print is nice — but e-books are just so much cheaper. At several of the sites mentioned in tip number 2, you’ll be given the option of choosing from print, digital or audio forms of the textbooks you need. In many cases you can highlight areas of e-books and make notes in the margins as you read your books online. Another option: CengageBrain.com allows you to buy single book chapters for as little as $1.99.
4. Rent your textbooks via Kindle. Amazon.com announced the launch of Kindle Textbook Rental with much fanfare last month. You don’t have to own a Kindle to read the rented books; once you rent them, they can be accessed using free Kindle Reading Apps for PC, Mac, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Android-based devices. Here’s an excerpt about rental rates from an article by msnbc.com writer Anika Anand : “For example, the full price listing of Psychology in Action published by John Wiley & Sons is about $154. A used hardcover copy on Amazon starts at $62, or the Kindle edition can be rented for about $29 for 30 days. If you want to rent the book for 60 days, it would be about $36; for 90 days, about $43; and for 120 days, the length of a typical semester, about $46. Assuming a student does purchase the course materials for the duration of the class, he or she would save about $16 plus potential shipping costs over the price of the cheapest available used version.”
5. Rent your textbooks in other ways. Much like online movie-rental services, sites like BookRenter.com and Chegg.com allows you to rent textbooks rather than buy them. The savings can be substantial, so long as you’re careful to return your books on time so your rentals don’t get converted to purchases. Another option: Check to see whether your college or university offers a textbook rental service to help students save money. To learn about additional ways to rent textbooks rather than buy them, check out this helpful column on the subject from ConsumerMan Herb Weisbaum.
6. Check out CourseSmart. Five textbook publishers — Pearson, John Wiley & Sons, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education and Bedford, Freeman& Worth Publishing Group — have teamed up to make thousands of textbooks available in the less expensive e-book format via CourseSmart.com. CourseSmart is continuing to add book titles all the time, so much so that the site boasts that its catalog includes more than “90 percent of the core textbooks in use today in North American Higher Education.”
7. Free downloads are your friends. Many classics of literature and a wide array of other books can be downloaded for free at Web sites such as Project Gutenberg.
8. Form a book-sharing confederation. Do you know or can you meet other students who share your major? If so, you could create a band of brothers (and sisters) who share, buy and sell books with each other at fair prices.
9. The library doesn’t charge a dime. Many colleges set aside copies of textbooks at the library, where they can be used for free. Your city or county library may even have copies of certain textbooks. Just be aware that this approach can backfire on you if the books you’re seeking aren’t available when you need them.
10. Older editions are always worth a look. If a new edition has just been released for one of the textbooks on your list, compare it carefully with the last edition. The changes may be so minor that you really won’t need to pay top dollar for the newer version.
11. Sell your books with care. The on-campus bookstore will give you a mere fraction of what you paid for your books once you’re done with them, so sell within the network of students you helped establish, or do so online through sites such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, eBay, eCampus.com and Chegg.com.
Check out these suggestions from ReduceCollegeCosts.com:
Purchase The International Edition: One of the least known secrets of the college textbook industry is that the International edition of a textbook will usually be significantly cheaper than the US edition. While there may be a slight difference between an international edition and a US edition, the differences are usually cosmetic and the content remains almost identical. For example, an International edition may have a soft cover rather than a hard cover, or be entirely in black-and-white rather than having color images on the pages. You can search for International editions at places such as abebooks.com
View Advertising For Free Textbooks: There is a company called Freeload Press which may be able to provide you with some of your textbooks at no charge if you are willing to put up with a bit of advertising. Before you download the textbook, you fill out a short survey and then advertisements are placed within the textbook and these advertisements pay for the cost. The publishers still get paid and you get your textbook at no cost. The company is still fairly new and the current selection of textbooks is limited, but it's worth checking out to see if any of your required textbooks are available this way.
Borrow A Sample Copy: Professors usually receive a number of textbook sample copies from textbook publishers and sales representatives. One of two things usually happens to these copies: they are donated to the library or the sit in the professor's office until someone gets around to throwing them out. There is a decent chance that the professor for your class has a sample copy lying somewhere in his office. If he doesn't, ask other professors in the department as they likely received the same complimentary sample. While the success of this method will depend greatly on the professors in question, it costs nothing to ask to borrow a sample copy and could mean saving several hundred dollars in books each semester.
Purchase Electronic Textbooks: If you do most of your work on a laptop and don't mind your textbooks in electronic form, purchasing them as downloads in place of a buying a traditional hardback textbook could cut your costs by 50%. Electronic versions of textbooks are available from sites such as iChapters. In the same light, if your taking classes that require the purchase of classic literature, you may not need to pay for these at all. If their copyright has expired, you can download them from sites like Bartleby for free.
Use the Library: OK, you probably knew of this way, but chances are that you have never tried it. Most students don't because they see it as a hassle not to have the textbook 24 hours a day. The fact is, using the library textbooks can make you much more efficient with your time as you will be forced to do your work before the last minute. Most libraries have multiple copies of textbooks available and many times you must use the books in-library. This means you must focus on what needs to be done and be efficient during library hours. While many of the students who use the library books do so for financial reasons, many continue even when they don't have to because how much more effectively they use their time over when they have their own copy.
Find Out Which Books Your Really Need: While this seems obvious, most students rarely question the required book list passed out for the class. Once you've been a student for a year, however, you also know there are times that professors place books on their lists that are rarely, if ever, used. It is worthwhile to take the time to find out what books are really needed for the class by contacting former students or TA's who can tell you exactly what textbooks you will need. This is especially true for material that is listed as "optional" on the class material list.