How to Save 20-100% on Textbooks
Since I graduated from college some time ago (I won't embarass myself by saying exactly how long) I had no idea that textbooks had gotten so expensive. How expensive? Well, according to a 2005 study by the General Accounting Office, the average estimated cost of books and supplies per first-time, full-time student for academic year 2003-2004 was $898 at 4-year public institutions, or about 26 percent of the cost of tuition and fees. At 2-year public institutions, the average estimated cost of books and supplies per first-time, full-time student was $886 in academic year 2003-2004, representing almost three-quarters of the cost of tuition and fees. And that was five years ago!
Why is the cost of books and supplies increasing at such a rapid clip? Read all about it in articles like this one from Wikipedia. But as far as this course is concerned, the "why" is academic. This mini-course isn't about finding fault; it's about finding deals. Check out the following TV news story, then join me on the other side for more details.
So the simplest way to get a free textbook is from the school library or your professor. Since supplies will be extremely limited in either case, best you hit these two options the instant you know your schedule. If neither of these ideas work, head for the web. Here are links to the sites I mentioned in this story in order they were mentioned.
Sites where you can download out-of-copyright (old) books:
Sites where you'll find a limited number of free textbooks for online reading or downloading:
Site that offers free, advertiser-supported textbooks in .pdf format: (There's a half-page ad every 3 pages.)
Sites where you can swap textbooks with other students:
- Textbook Revolt (Note: this site was a swapping site, but is now apparently morphing into a rental site.)
Sites where you can find all manner of free stuff, including textbooks:
These are the sites you might find free textbooks; whether you actually succeed is a function of how hard you look and how common the title you're looking for. And if you're thinking of a swapping site, beware of the pitfall of any online transaction: fraud.
If you can't find what you're looking for on a free site or a swap site, what then? Time to try a rental.
There are several sources for textbook rental. The first place to try is your college bookstore. The cost to rent a book should be no more than half the price of buying the book; hopefully less. You might find a better deal online -- two popular rental sites are Chegg and BookRenter. The downside of book renting is the same as with renting anything: you don't own anything when it's over and you've got to keep it in great condition. One way to avoid the wear-and-tear issue is to rent a digital copy. You can find these at CourseSmart -- they claim to have more than 8,000 textbooks available for digital download at savings of up to 50%. You can print out up to 10 pages at a time and the license to use the book expires after six months.
As with drugs, some publishers sell cheaper overseas. And some booksellers re-import international-edition textbooks and offer them at prices less than in the US, which means you might find a bargain. One site that features international editions is AbeBooks.
There are two potential problems with international editions of textbooks. First, you've got to be sure that the international edition is the same as the domestic one (your professor might know). Also, be aware that some people aren't happy about the reimportation of international edition textbooks, since pretty much everybody from the author to the campus bookstore makes less money as a result. If you want to read more about the controversy, see the Wikipedia page I mentioned earlier.
Used textbooks can often be found at the campus bookstore, not to mention campus newspaper classifieds and bulletin boards. But you should also check sites like Craigs List, eBay, and Amazon. Just be sure you're buying the edition you need -- textbooks are revised often.
Shopping for Savings
When you shop at the campus bookstore, it's convenient, and they'll have the textbook you're looking for. But like buying your groceries at 7-11, convenience often comes at a cost. So shop for savings on books the same way you (hopefully) do for every other expensive purchase you make: do a quick online search at sites like Amazon, BarnesandNoble, Half, ecampus or others (do a search for textbooks and you'll find tons). Or use a textbook shopping bot like GetTextBooks and DirectTextBook.
Comparison shopping is a fairly simple way to save 20% or more on new book purchases and a way to perhaps find a used version for even greater savings.
Bottom line? The cost of both tuition and textbooks has been outpacing inflation for many years. It's not fair, but don't get mad, get smarter. View the challenge as an opportunity to learn a life lesson. Confront costs by combining creativity and legwork, and you can have the things you want for less.