How To Buy College Textbooks On The Cheap

By Carla Turchetti. May 7th 2016

Textbooks are an expensive necessity of a college education. In fact, the experts at The College Board estimate that a student will spend nearly $1,200 a year on books and course materials at a four-year public university. However, there are ways to reduce the cost of college textbooks for savvy consumers willing to spend some time looking for the best deals. In this article, we’ll examine several different places that you can shop to save money on college textbooks. We’ll also give you some tips on how to recoup some of the costs you spend on college textbooks.

Where To Shop For Your College Textbooks

The Student Store

Generations of college students have relied on the campus bookstore for buying new textbooks and cashing in on old textbooks. Campus shops still specialize in selling books, although students now have a wider world of options available. The bottom line is that it’s probably a good idea to shop around online before buying your books from the campus bookstore. The same advice goes for selling your old textbooks.

Online Book Sellers

The large online booksellers who sell everything from New York Times bestsellers to children's picture books also sell college textbooks. These e-tailers include the online marketplace Amazon and AbeBooks, which searches the inventories of more than 13,000 booksellers. Ebay, the auction site, also has textbook listings.

Online Textbook Specialists

There are many online sites that search across the web for multiple options in textbook purchases and rentals. You punch in the name of the book and the search engine finds available copies and price points for new books, used books, rentals and digital editions.

Rental Textbooks

Students don't have to always purchase books. There are websites that offer rental options and some bookstores in college towns also offer the same service.

Electronic Textbooks

Electronic versions of textbooks are a developing market.

Some online retailers offer electronic textbooks with features that include highlighting and note-taking with the swipe of a finger. E-books also offer instant dictionary definitions of words in the text and the opportunity to ask questions of other readers.

E-books give students the freedom to read their textbooks on desktop or laptop computers, mobile devices with browsers and many different types of tablets. also offers rental textbooks for their Kindle e-reader. That means the textbook disappears from the reader after a set period of time.

Keep in mind that digital textbook editions are generally not the cheapest option. A study by one online retailer reported that 81 percent of the time, renting a copy or buying a used book was less expensive than purchasing the e-book.

Free Books Online is a student-run website that is dedicated to finding and sharing free textbooks. Most of the books that are available for free downloads were produced specifically for that reason. is another site that publishes proprietary textbooks and encourages professors and students to use them. It also accepts textbook submissions from authors.

Students who find themselves with an assignment to read and study a classic piece of literature may find that it is available free through Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg is an online digital library of 38,000 titles that are available free of charge because the copyright has expired. "Ulysses" and "Pride and Prejudice" are examples the types of free classics that are found through Project Gutenberg.

Shop And Compare Example

To illustrate the variety of prices that you can find at different vendors for the same textbook, here are some of the price comparisons of a randomly selected college textbook.

The book is, "Chemistry: The Central Science (12th edition)" by Brown, LeMay, Dursten, Murphy and Woodward.

  • At Barnes & Noble, a new, hardcover copy retails for $177.13, which is discounted from the list price of $222.
  • found a bookseller in California with a used, hardcover copy for $90.13 with $3.99 shipping.
  • found an electronic version for $91.60.
  • Through, a new, softcover edition was for sale for $64.99 with shipping based on location.
  • found a rental copy at for $35.78 with free shipping.

Sell Them Back

The same bookstores, campus shops and online sites that sell textbooks will often buy them back at the end of the semester if the book is still in decent condition. However, students will generally only get back a portion of what was paid for the book.

Booksellers pay for books in different ways. Some will hand back cash on the spot. Online retailers will mail checks, submit a PayPal payment or issue store credit that can be used for future textbook purchases.

It may be tempting to hang onto a textbook, but the reality is that a new edition is on the way and the book will become obsolete sooner than later. Cash in while you can. No one needs outdated college textbooks on the bookshelf at the office.

For those willing to do a little comparison shopping, there are ways to save on books. Campus student stores will usually carry the books students need for classes and that is often a starting point for price comparison. However, to get the best deals, you should check out websites that search the Internet and return lists of available prices for new, used, rental and ebooks. With just a little research, you can end up saving hundreds or thousands of dollars on your college textbooks.


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