Got Textbooks?

Published by Wendy Nelson on

TextbooksSo your child is headed to college in the fall.  Have you heard how much textbooks will cost?  $150 for one shiny new hardcover textbook is now the norm at the campus bookstore.  Multiply that by about five classes and you are up to $750 or more per semester!  But don’t panic yet …

There are Alternatives to the Campus Bookstore!

I will talk about those alternatives shortly, but first, you need to know how to find out what books your first-time college student will need.  At my daughter’s college, the online course listing includes a link with all required materials.  The books are listed with their International Standard Book Number (ISBN) and the price for new, used and rental through the college bookstore.  I love this because it gives us a quick and painless baseline to work from to find better deals.  The ISBN is the key to finding the correct book.  It is specific to the title and the edition of the book so that you can make sure you are buying the same edition that will be used in the class.

If your student’s school does not list out the materials in this fashion, your book search could be more complicated.  At the very minimum, you should be able to get a hold of the ISBN so that you can search around for deals on the book.

Textbook Options & Sources

New U.S. Version – Obviously a brand-new book with no highlighting, underlining, writing or anything.  These will always be more expensive, but there are sources that may be cheaper than the campus bookstore.  Good online sources:

New International Version – This is a book that is made for a market outside the U.S.  If you want to look at this option, you need to use caution.  For my grad school classes, the international versions worked out great and were identical in content with one exception.  I had one book where the questions at the end of the chapters were the same, but were in a different order.  Of course this happened to be a class where the professor assigned the questions as homework!  When looking to purchase an international version, read any comments about the book carefully to see if it matches up closely to the U.S. version.  If you have any doubts, don’t buy it!  Best sources to find these:

Used – There are many sources, including the campus bookstore, for purchasing used copies of textbooks.  You want to make sure that the edition number is the same as the one assigned for the class.  If you have the ISBN, this should be taken care of.  If you are going used, I’d recommend sticking with a U.S. version.  I have always found cheaper used books online than from the campus bookstore.  Plus, at the bookstore, it is first come first serve on used copies so the nicest ones go quickly.  Most online sources will categorize their books with a system something like the following:  like new, very good, good, acceptable.  Make sure you know what the categories mean and what you are looking for.  If you don’t want excessive underlining or highlighting, stick with the highest categories.  Most sites offer free shipping if you spend over a certain amount (like $25).  The best sources I have found for used textbooks are:

Rental – Campus bookstores and online sources are now offering textbook rentals too.  I have not found a lot of cases where the rental is significantly cheaper than a used book.  Plus, you have to give it back at the end of the class, so you can’t keep it as a reference material.  However, rentals seem to be gaining favor with college students who are finding them to be a better deal than buying a textbook and trying to sell it back at the end of the semester.  If you can find a good deal on a rental, this option might make sense for subjects your student isn’t likely to refer back to in the future.  Sources for rentals include:

For now, we are sticking with buying used books for my daughter.  We have been really happy with our purchases so far.  Many are just like new and we are saving over $300 on books for the upcoming semester (versus buying new from the campus bookstore)!  The earlier you shop, the more options you will have.  The only drawback to buying early is risking a last minute change of book or edition.  We haven’t run into that yet, so we will keep using this system until it fails us.


Janet · July 7, 2013 at 1:33 pm

Try Chegg for rentals and purchases too. They ship prepaid and send the kids labels for return shipping as well. Some books that were not available for rent were found at Chegg for purchase for much less than any other resource. We saved on average, 350-500 a semester by sourcing nursing books thru Chegg. Some books that we initially rented, we found she needed later on. We were able to arrange to purchase at that point, and still save over what the purchase would have been initially.

    Wendy Nelson · July 11, 2013 at 11:51 am

    Thanks, Janet. We have not used Chegg, but will definitely check it out!

ofer · July 10, 2013 at 4:28 pm

All these sites are good, but check first on a textbook price comparison website to make sure what option and merchant is cheapest. Sometimes a used textbook can be cheaper than a rental or e-book. Remember to include shipping price in your consideration !!!

The Cheap Textbook


    Wendy Nelson · July 11, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Excellent points and thank you for the link to the textbook comparison site. Many of the sites will offer free shipping if you spend a certain amount. For it’s $25. For Amazon, it gets a little tricky. If Amazon is the seller, you can get free shipping when you spend $25, but if it is a private seller using Amazon, you usually have to pay for shipping.

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