Also written by Ronnie Cohen.
Long gone are days when teachers passed out ancient, three-pound chemistry books on the first day of class. Say goodbye to the excitement of opening the front cover to see if you know the person who previously “owned” the book, or if there are any weird doodles hidden among the pages. In college, you get to keep those books, but it will cost you your soul and two months rent. At least you get to sell them back…for a quarter of the price. Unless you have an unfortunate professor who forces you to buy the mediocre book he wrote himself (seriously dude, $70 for a glorified syllabus?), check out this arsenal of websites that will leave you with money in your pocket at the end of the semester. Goodbye chemistry, hello Cabo.
Chegg lets students rent books for less than half the original price and they provide you with a prepaid UPS label so you don’t have to worry about shipping costs when you send it back. Mark away if you’re feeling highlighter-happy; just avoid those doodles from high school. Chegg allows you to highlight the books you rent, but not to write in them. The website also offers homework help, an internship search and a scholarship database.
BIGWORDS is like the Google of textbooks. Plug in a title or ISBN and let the website do all the work. BIGWORDS scans dozens of textbook retailers to find the cheapest option. It claims to be 35-45 percent cheaper than competitors and up to 90 percent cheaper than your campus bookstore. You can also search for coupons, promo codes and other discounts to get the best deal out there.
Amazon offers new and used textbooks for up to 90 percent off retail. You can also trade in your used books (whether you bought them from Amazon or not) for an Amazon gift card. It’s not cash, but it’s pretty close. Amazon also offers a free six-month Prime membership for students which means cheaper shipping rates and unlimited music and movie streams. They also throw in a free puppy and a pizza party for purchases over $100 (just kidding). In all seriousness, Amazon clearly loves broke college students.
Half, owned by eBay, lets you buy, rent and sell your books at a fixed price. You can also find music, movies and games, many of which cost less than $1. The site ranks the condition of each item from “brand new” to “acceptable” and has a feedback system similar to eBay to determine if a seller is credible.
Affordabook searches nearly 20 different online stores to find you the lowest prices to rent or buy textbooks. You can even create a custom “Watched List” to receive a notification when a certain book becomes available in your price range. Pretty nifty. Affordabook gives students sell-back opportunities that leave you with more than just a couple bucks. Save that money for an emergency: a finals-sized tub of Ben & Jerry’s or a pitcher of beer to celebrate that 4.0 GPA. Or maybe just the fact you survived midterms.
Bargain Book Mole searches a database of 150 million different books from over 20,000 different merchants to deliver the cheapest textbooks around. The website shows a comprehensive summary of the book price and shipping cost so you know exactly how much you’re spending. No more surprises with the mole.
College already costs an arm and a leg. We simply can’t afford to spend valuable money on a book we’ll likely only crack open twice during the semester. BookRenter allows you to rent nearly 5 million titles for up to 80 percent off. They offer free shipping, free returns and a choice of five different rental periods (between 30 and 125 days) so you only have to pay for the book as long as you use it.
Check out AbeBooks if you are looking for rare or out-of-print books. It may not always be the best option since textbooks release new editions every 10 minutes, but it’s still good to keep in mind for that obscure Orthomolecular medicine textbook. The website allows you to search the inventory of independent bookstores for titles that may not be carried in larger marketplaces. You can find books for 50-90 percent off and sell them back with free shipping.
Feel free to annotate and highlight to your heart’s content if you rent a book from Campus Book Rentals. They offer free shipping and returns too. If you rent the book but decide you simply can’t live on without your own personal copy of Business Statistics, you can keep it at the end of the rental term as long as you pay the difference. And for those textbooks from last semester collecting dust on your desk, Campus Book Rentals will pay you to rent it out to other students. It looks like your textbooks provide more than just a wealth of knowledge.
Skyo lets students buy and rent textbooks for super cheap—but only as long as you need it.The website offers flexible rental and pricing packages for 30, 45, 60, 90 and 125-day periods. They also offer a full refund within the first 21 days and simply bill you the remainder of the price if you decide to keep the textbook.
Still low on cash? Check out 10 more professor-approved secrets to buying cheap textbooks.
1. Search Facebook for Textbook Exchange Groups
Social media will double as your best friend here. While you’ll find an official textbook exchange program at your campus, you should also start by searching for textbook exchange groups on Facebook. A good format for the search could look like “textbook exchange [insert the name of your college here].” I mean, of course theoretically, you don’t have to find one specific to your school, but it might save you the heartbreak when you find out shipping costs more than the book itself.
2. Talk to your professor
You may ask yourself, “But what if my professor didn’t put a book on reserve?” For those who didn’t, they might oblige if you point out to them the demand for said service. I’ve even heard of professors who were willing to loan a few private copies to students. “I would certainly be willing to offer them my copy until they’re able to find something more affordable,” said University of California, Los Angeles English Professor Sara Burdorff. “If it’s a choice between a student not being able to take my class or not being able to complete the assignments because they weren’t able to afford the books, I would certainly do whatever I could with my resources in order to facilitate their ability to do that.”
3. Buy a different publication or edition
Exercise caution if you try this. Some earlier editions of textbooks appear nearly exactly identical except for a change up in page numbers. Others end up completely different in every way possible. “I’ve been more careful about not necessarily assigning the cheapest but also trying to find a good compromise between high quality editing and as inexpensive as possible a price,” said Saree Makdisi, professor of English at UCLA. If you have a different edition, you might run into issues. “With a work in translation it is really critical that all the students have the same edition because of the variations in translation and because of the variation in line numbers and things like that but there’s just really no way to standardize a class discussion if everybody’s using a different translation, unfortunately,” said Burdorff.
4. Wait it out
“I try to be flexible in terms of how soon in the course I assign work from the textbook because I do want to give people a chance to kind of collect them in the most cost effective ways possible,” said Burdorff. Think of the syllabus as your guide. If you see a title that appears every single week in bold italicized letters, you should probably make sure you have it on hand. If a book shows up once on the syllabus for week five, you can probably find a way around actually buying it. If it’s really going to be a while before you need the book, you might find it worth it to wait it out to see if it pops up on that super handy textbook exchange Facebook group you just joined.
5. Research early
“Early? But you just said…” Hear me out. You can never start your research too early, especially since shipping takes a while. You don’t want to find yourself pressed into a corner having to pay double for a textbook because you need it for class the next morning. I know it’s tragic to think about, but your semester doesn’t start when classes start. It starts as soon as you get your list of textbooks. Compare prices and make an informed decision, whether you’re going to wait or be that one person in class who everyone resents for coming prepared on the first day.
Although e-books cost much less, proceed with caution. “Because I put the legwork into selecting a reasonably priced edition to begin with I’d say as a last resort an e-book is better than nothing but I am a very enthusiastic proponent of tangible interaction with the text,” said Burdorff. Don’t start crying and emptying your wallet, however. “It depends heavily on the book and what we’re going to be using the book for,” said Burdorff. If you purchase a giant textbook that you’ll need to read through entire chunks of every week, it might not work as the best option. If it’s a compilation of articles and essays that you only need to access once in a while however, it might not be so bad after all.
7. Search the Internet for Free
Google your book titles, since you might find them available online or on other book apps for free. But if they’re not the specific publication your professor assigned, avoid the temptation to use them. “I’ve also discovered recently that sometimes the price and quality can correlate to one another,” said Makdisi. Don’t get clever, because you might run into consequences. According to Makdisi, he once realized the cheapest edition of a novel he assigned had all sorts of typos.
8. Buy Used
“To find used copies is probably pretty straight forward these days,” said Makdisi. “The editions can be very very significantly different textually in terms of editing and so forth. The paginations will almost always be very different from what they are and there can be whole much bigger changes from edition to edition beyond just that so I’d say if anything try to find a used copy of the same edition.” I don’t wish to suppress anyone’s creativity but sometimes you don’t have to think so far out of the box to save money on books. If it’s a common method it probably means there’s something to it.
9. Split the cost
Feel free to lean on each other in the same way you’d split up a bar tab. However, splitting the cost on a book and sharing it with your classmate may prove tricky. You’ll probably need to come to some agreements before you make the purchase to decide who gets it when, who gets to keep it or how to handle it during finals week. If you work in tandem, you’ll both likely benefit from the arrangement. Also, try not to end up the one to spill your morning coffee all over it.
10. Check the library
If it’s that obvious, then don’t ignore it. Always always always check the library. There is a good chance that thanks to someone who read this article before you the book is already on reserve. If not, check the regular library sections it might show up there. No? Try a local library that’s off campus. Commit to your search. Be vigorous. Be determined. I believe in you.
*Updated on February 7, 2017 by Ronnie Cohen to include 10 bonus professor-approved tips for finding cheap textbooks.