Textbook publishers make a tidy sum charging outlandish prices for books you have no choice but to buy. Sometimes you do have to pay their exorbitant sums, but often you can avoid it.
1. Do You Need That Textbook?
Sometimes textbooks are listed as required when really they are optional or recommended. Email your professor and double check before you spend $100 on that book.
2. Do Not Buy From the Bookstore
Most textbooks are ridiculously overpriced. This isn’t the fault of your college’s bookstore, but still – don’t buy there. I recommend buying your books online from sites like eBay or Amazon.
When buying online, search for your book using its ISBN (International Standard Book Number), to make sure you get the correct book. If you don’t know the ISBN, you can probably look it up on your college’s website, or go into the bookstore and look at the textbook’s copyright page.
Be sure to allow your books adequate time to ship. I recommend ordering two weeks before classes start.
3. Old Editions
Not always, but very often, when publishers put out a new edition of a textbook they make hardly any changes to the actual content. They may change the format, add some more pictures, and maybe throw in another chapter, but new editions are usually just ways for publishers to make more money (except in fields where content needs to be regularly updated, of course).
That means that if you don’t mind dealing with different page numbers, you can probably use an old edition instead of the current one in your class. Why would you want to do that? Because old editions are cheap!
Check with your professor before you order. Some professors are really awesome and make it easy to use old books. Other times you really do need the current edition.
If you’ve ever bought a textbook, you probably wondered while you were standing in the checkout line “Why am I paying this much for a book I’m never going to read again?” Some textbooks are really handy to hang onto, but if you are never going to look at it again, sell it!
You can sell your books either to other students at your college or on websites like eBay. Depending on the condition (that is, if you took care of the book or utterly destroyed it) and other factors, you can re-coup almost all of the initial purchase price. The best time to sell books is when school is starting (and students like us are buying!).
Some common alternatives to buying textbooks are renting, buying digital, or borrowing.
Renting: before you rent a book, compare the rental price to the sale price and consider how much you will be saving. Would it be worth the extra money to you to be able to keep the book and write all over it? I usually don’t rent books, because I’ve found that it is cheaper to buy and re-sell them, but renting can still be a very good option. Also, it saves you the hassle of re-selling.
Digital: buying digital may or may not be a whole lot cheaper, but keep in mind it will save your back as well as your wallet. Textbooks are heavy! There are many different types of digital media. Some are only available on certain devices. Before you buy, make sure you can access the book when you need it. Also, make sure your professor allows tablets or laptops in class.
Borrowing: at many colleges there are lending programs to help students who are struggling to afford textbooks. Ask about these resources. These programs may be run by the college, or by a student group. Good places to learn more are Student Services or the Associated Student Body (ASB).
Additionally, many books are kept on reserve at the college library, meaning that you can go to the library to read the book. If you don’t need to take the book home with you or bring it to class, this may be sufficient access.
Textbooks are important to your success as a student, and they can be great resources outside the classroom. In implementing these five tips, be sure to balance quality with savings. Don’t do anything that would compromise your learning.