As textbook prices go up and up, students are looking for more creative ways to get their textbooks for cheap. And although there are plenty of resources on the web to buy cheap textbooks for college or high school, no one has ever taken the time to actually compile a list of all of the possible avenues to take when buying textbooks.
Some methods are a bit more well known than others, but we hope that you find this information useful in your hunt for textbooks. I remember when I was in college, textbooks were the bane of my existence and having a list like this would have helped a lot.
New or Used Textbook
The debate has raged for decades and will continue to go on for decades to come. Should you buy a new or used version of the textbook that you’re after? In my book (no pun intended), used should win the debate every time. There’s nothing different about a used cheap textbooks compared to a new textbooks other than it probably costs half the price and has some dented corners and highlighted pages.
Where issues come in with regards to new or used textbooks is a new trick that textbook companies are trying out to force you to buy new textbooks instead. In addition to releasing new editions each year to try and convince students that they need the most up to date information about a particular subject, digital packages are also being included in textbooks as well.
These digital packages usually have some type of online access code that you can use to do homework and extra assignments online to practice for the exams. The book companies have put pressure on professors to use these online portals as supplements to their class to try and increase new book revenues.
What they don’t tell you in class and in the book stores is that you can still buy a cheap used textbook from whoever you’re buying books from and get the online access code online after the fact. The access code’s price is built into the cost of the new book wherever you purchase it (online or in the store), but if you just get the access code from the company’s website, you can hunt for a used book elsewhere and save some cash on that end.
Although the books that are returned to the store to buy resold as used textbooks are often in terrible condition, I suggest looking for the worst condition books you can find. These books have typically seen the most users and will most likely have highlights, notes, and extra goodies written in the book. Any students who have taken the class before have probably already highlighted the important passages in the book. Take advantage of these beat up books for your own studying edge.
Textbook Stores in Town
OK, so when you’ve gotten the info from your professors about what books you need to buy, the first place you should check out is your local textbook stores. I know, I know, this is where the rip-offs happen. Though, if you are in desperate need of a textbook and can’t wait for it to be shipped to you, you can buy a book from your local textbook shops for the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries.
Here’s something you probably don’t know about your local textbook stores though: About two weeks before it’s time for them to deal with the droves of kids piling through their doors, they begin to hand out promos in the form of mail promotions and coupons in the local newspaper that can get you anywhere between 10%-25% off a single purchase. If you can get your hands on one of these great promotions, you can save a substantial bit of cash if you’re forced to buy from these evil book corporations (I’m not jaded) and actually end up with some cheap textbooks out of the whole deal.
An often unused resource by college students is the Facebook marketplace. Chances are, if you’re in college, you have a Facebook account. The Facebook marketplace is essentially a simplified version of craigslist. If you live in a college town, there’s a damn good chance that someone who just took the course you’re enrolled in is trying to get rid of the book they used last semester. Many times students just want to get rid of their previous semester’s books for cheap and when compared to other online retail outlets, the prices can’t be beaten.
If you’re in a huge auditorium type class with a few hundred students, you may be able to snag the book for the class for about $20. If you’re in a smaller niche class with only a few dozen kids, let the hunt begin.
Facebook marketplace is available here. You’ll have to first install the app to use it, but once you’ve gotten it opened up, the interface is pretty self explanatory. Facebook is usually the first place I check for textbooks, as whenever books appear in the marketplace, they tend to disappear pretty quickly due to the number of kids registering for classes at the start of the semester.
Buy Textbooks at Amazon
Although Amazon is usually the first destination to check out if a product is available on the web for purchase, many college students completely neglect to check the site when it comes time for school. Amazon, like many other textbook shops online, has a selection of both new and used books for you to choose from. The best time to check for books on Amazon is about a week before classes start. Because so many colleges around the country often use the same book, the best time to buy a book is when students are desperately trying to get rid of them towards the end of the summer vacation.
A few years ago a company by the name of Neebo had the brilliant idea to start renting textbooks to college students. While the concept shouldn’t be too foreign, the execution is pretty phenomenal. While Neebo is the company that I’m familiar with, you may have different textbook rental services in your town that will operate under the same principal.
Although it should be pretty obvious, for those that are unfamiliar with how textbook rental works, here’s the low down. Basically, you approach your local textbook store or find an online vendor such as Chegg and find the book that you need for the semester. Then, instead of buying the books (you only have the option to rent used textbooks), you rent them for the semester for about a third of the cost of what it would cost you to buy the books.
These rented books are yours to keep and use for the entire semester and are due back about 3 weeks after your semester ends if you rent from an online retailer, and about a week after the semester ends if you rent from a local book store.
Textbook rental is a win-win for students. While used textbooks can save a huge sum of money on the front end, when it comes time to sell books back to the bookstores or to other students, chances are you won’t get more than a couple of dollars back for the book. That being the case, renting textbooks is not only cheaper than buying a used textbook each semester, it also gets the book off of your hands at the end of school so you don’t have a pile of useless books accumulating in the corner of the room.
Compare Cheap Textbooks
OK, so we’ve gone on for quite a while discussing all of the different ways that you can buy textbooks cheap online, but where do you actually go to compare prices from a number of different retail outlets. We’ll post a list of textbook buying sites at the end of this article for you to scan, but in addition to places that you can buy, are there any places that you can compare prices side by side to see which deal is the best?
Obviously, the answer is yes (otherwise we wouldn’t have brought the topic up in the first place).
The first place to check is Google. If you type in the ISBN or the exact title of your book, you can visit Google Shopping. Here, a list will populate with the most popular online retailers that sell the book that you’re looking for and will compare the price not only of the book, but also of the cost of shipping. While the search isn’t the best (and it only shows you major retailers on the web), it’s a good place to start if you’re not sure how much you should be paying for a particular book.
A favorite resource of mine while I was in college and shopping around for textbooks was a website called BigWords.com. The site works almost the exact same way as the Google Shopping search does. All you have to do is enter the title of the book or your ISBN that you’re searching for and Big Words does the rest. It searches a repository of different, sometimes hidden, websites that sell your textbook around the web and brings you back the best prices that it can find.
The best part of the site is that you don’t have to buy through the third party retailer, but can instead conduct all of your business through Big Words.
Rent Textbooks for Cheap
We covered textbook rentals in the last passage, but we didn’t give any type of definitive list of where you can rent textbooks online for cheap. This is a similar list as the BitTorrent list as above. Some of the sites you find here may be outdated by the time that you read this article, but we’ve done our best to give you enough places to check out that we hope you can find some useful resources here to help out in your textbook hunt.
Another disclaimer that we’re going to throw into the mix is that we don’t condone cheating in a class. Although classes can be difficult, we encourage you to learn as much as you can and sometimes that requires having a teacher’s edition of a book handy so that you can look at exactly how a problem is done before you turn in your homework or get started on a test.
Because faculty textbooks are generally given to teachers who teach the class, buying them online can be a little tricky. Luckily, we’ve got you covered.
Surprisingly, this one little website has a huge array of old teacher’s editions that were either sent as duplicates to schools and universities for professors who were teaching a class this semester, or have been put up online by teacher’s who have received a new edition for this semester’s curriculum. You won’t have the option to rent these teacher’s editions, as they’re designed to be given away as promotional copies to professors, but you can often buy them for next to nothing.
Go To Faculty Books
Now, while we’re not going to explicitly state that we endorse piracy to get college textbooks, sometimes it’s impossible to find a book that you need online or at any available retailer. In these dire situations, and if only if you live in a country where fair use of copyrighted material is allowed, you can check out these websites below for your books on BitTorrent.
For those unfamiliar with what BitTorrent is, you can read this handy guide here to get an idea of how it works and understand why the powers that be aren’t always terribly excited about people taking advantage of this technology to download things like textbooks, movies, and music.
(This list was compiled using a list found here: filesharingtalk.com/showthread.php?t=344292. We do not endorse the content in those sites, as most of them are a den for piracy as mentioned above. Please exercise caution.)
When doing research for this article, we came across another excellent resource for downloading free ebooks online. HongKiat has compiled a list of their own 20 best places to download free ebooks on the web. In some cases the websites in the list are designed specifically for recreational reading, but some of the websites are textbook oriented as well, which means that you could get lucky if you don’t find what you’re looking for on BitTorrent.
The Old Fashioned Way
If you’ve tried all of our tricks and tips listed in this article and still can’t find a good deal on the textbook that you’re looking for, there’s one final option that you have to try: Flyers.
Chances are, if you’re attending a fairly large university, you can find announcement boards just about everywhere. All you need to do is post an ad outside of the class you’re needing a textbook for, our on general announcement boards around the campus area with a price that you’re willing to pay for a particular book, as well as the information needed to get in contact with you, and you’ll probably have a phone call or email heading your way by the end of the afternoon.
Although many announcements are ignored by students, opportunities to sell their textbooks are not. Spend a few cents on ink and you’ll probably save a hefty sum of cash on a book that you’ve been unable to find elsewhere for a good deal.
Another little known fact that you’ve probably never seen or heard of before around your campus are the textbook fairs that happen at the end of every semester. Some colleges are taking a stand against the extortionate prices that textbook companies charge for their books and are setting up textbook fairs to combat the problem. These fairs are designed in a way that at the end of a semester you can bring your used textbooks to the fair and either trade them in for textbook credit, or trade them directly with someone else who needs a textbook for the next semester.
The above is a little risky to do, as it means you have to know exactly what you’re taking in the next semester to fully capitalize on this offer, but these fairs are growing in popularity as a viable way to get cheap (and sometimes free) textbooks for classes that would otherwise set you back a few hundred dollars.
Library For Books
And finally, if all else in the universe fails and you can’t find the textbook you’re looking for or you don’t have enough money to buy it, there’s a good chance that your school’s library has a copy of it lying around. The library typically orders all of the new textbooks each year so that if students need to do homework or can’t find the money to order a book to complete their assignments, they’ll have a copy of the book they need on the shelves of the student library. You can’t always guarantee yourself a copy of the book when you need it, as many students take advantage of these free books during the school year.
You may have to reserve a time when you can check the book out for an hour or two, but if it feels like the world is crashing down because you can’t for the life of you find the book you need online, give the library a call to see if they have what you need.
Online Resource List
As promised, here’s a website that you can check out that has a list of the 10 best resources online for buying textbooks. It isn’t as thorough as some of the sites we’ve mentioned in this article, but if you’re stuck for ideas after all of the sites we’ve listed, you can head over here for a few more to add to your arsenal.
That about wraps it up for the skinny on cheap textbooks. We’ve covered everything we think you need to know about buying textbooks this year, and if we haven’t, please let us know in the comments below.