Study up on these 5 ways to save on college textbooks

August 17, 2011

College textbook publishers apparently haven’t heard there’s a recession going on.

The average college student spends $1,137 a year for textbooks and other course materials, up from $988 three years ago according to

There are some cases where students just can’t avoid buying new books, especially if the new edition comes “bundled” with a CD or online access code for supplemental materials. These are often stripped or damaged with rented or used books, and if you buy them separately you could end up paying as much or more than you would for a new book with everything intact.

The only bonus of buying new is that you can make some money selling books back after you’re done using them. My daughter, a college junior, tells me her college bookstore pays a small fraction of a book’s original cost when she brings it in for resale. Because she’s a science major, her books are updated so frequently that they often don’t take them back at all. Her experience with college bookstore stinginess when it comes to buying back books is not unusual. Get a better price by selling books yourself through web sites such as,

The drawback? It takes some time and effort, but nobody is going to cry for a college student about that.

When you can avoid buying new, however, it’s going to save money, and today’s c0-eds have plenty of options. Here are ways for new and returning students to slash textbook costs by one-third or more as they head to school over the next few weeks:

1. Buy used. College bookstores offer some discounts on used books — about 25 percent off the cost of new textbooks, on average — but you can often find better deals through web sites such as and

Drawbacks: It can take at least several days for delivery if you buy online and you won’t know a book’s condition until you get it. You may also have to pay for shipping.

2. Rent. Over 3,100 college bookstores will be offering textbook rentals this fall compared to just 300 in 2009, according to the National Association of College Stores (NACS). They join textbook rental web sites such as, and, which have been up and running for several years. Renting can cost as much as 50 percent less than buying a new book.

Pamela Tyus, a second-year student at Cuyahoga Communty College in Cleveland, rented books from an online service last year and plans to do so again this fall. “The transaction went smoothly and it only took about a week for the books to get here,” says Tyus, who estimates her savings off the cost of new books costs comes to about 35 percent.

Campus bookstores cite advantages to staying local. “You don’t have to wait for the book to be shipped, and you can see what you’re getting before you rent,” says NACS spokesperson Charles Schmidt. “And if you decide to drop a course, it’s probably going to be easier to get your money back.”

Drawbacks: Late fees may apply if you keep the book too long, and you could have to pay for a new one if you keep it or forget to return it. Buying used and re-selling will probably save more.

3. Share. This can be a great way to save, particularly if students work out a deal with a couple of friends.

Drawbacks: Book hogs or overly enthusiastic highlighters can make for a trying experience, and the book won’t always be available when you need it.

4. Use an older edition. Send an email to the professor to find out if you can use an older edition of a textbook. The content will be virtually the same, and you can often buy them for a fraction of the cost of the new version.

Drawbacks: Page numbering may not correspond to the new text and professors who write books may frown on penny pinchers cutting into their royalty payments.

5. Use e-books. Students with e-readers such as the iPad, Nook or Kindle can shave pounds off their backpacks help the environment by downloading e-books from web sites such as for about half the cost of a new printed version. Users can also highlight and make notes on-screen and access materials immediately.

Drawbacks: This option isn’t in widespread use for textbooks yet, so a lot of titles aren’t available. Charts and graphs may not fit the screen and some E-readers don’t display color.




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Great article! However, I think that you should have discussed more about comparison sites. Finding a good comparison site is really useful because you can easily browse all available options (new, used, digital, rent) in one place.

I recently read about a site called SwoopThat on Computer World that is worth looking into ( It lets students enter their courses and then the site automatically finds the required books for those courses and the cheapest places to buy them online. It has a free system in it that lets students buy and sell books to each other. It’s probably worth visiting if you want to save money on books.

Posted by jslim | Report as abusive

Resourceful article, but there was no mention of It has been shown that BookRenter has the cheapest prices out of any book rental site. They save students up to 80% on their textbook rentals and they have free shipping. I’ve used them before and I saved a lot of money.

Posted by KrazyKaplan14 | Report as abusive

Great info I would also suggest using makes it easy to save money on college textbooks, used textbooks, cheap textbooks and digital textbooks you need. has the most used textbooks on the planet, the largest selection of digital textbooks and ebooks and the fastest shipping on textbooks to anywhere in the USA. Get cash for books when you sell textbooks through our textbook buyback program. Whether you are looking to buy textbooks, sell textbooks or rent textbooks, we have the college books you need at the low textbook prices you want.

Posted by TextbookTime | Report as abusive