Sunday, August 16, 2009

Getting Ready for Fall Semester - Saving money on textbooks!

Textbooks. Just the word can conjure up pictures of dollar signs added to an already expensive tuition each semester. Now you have alternatives to purchasing new textbooks that can run in the triple digits, and cost over a thousand dollars a year! To check out the increased options and what works best for you, open a tabbed web browser like Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari. This will make it easier to keep track of and compare options. You might also use a spreadsheet or a table in a word document to keep track of the list of books you need for each course, along other needed information, such as the link to the store or website, price, tax, shipping & handling, and the time it takes for shipping the books. (Be aware of shipping & handling costs, as well as shipping time!).

Before you start, make sure you know the name, edition, author, and ISBN number of the books you are searching for. To find this information, check with the campus bookstore (online if they have that option); ask the professor personally or send an email; check syllabi or course websites.

Used Books. Certainly nothing new, but you might find new places to purchase them.
  • Students. Ask students who took the course last semester – quite often they ask the professor if the same book will be used again the following semester, and have one for sale. Also check to see if your campus has a student-run textbook selling system in place, such as a website or bulletin board.

  • Websites. is a good place to purchase used books. You can also use Google or Bing to search for books by typing in the name of the book and edition, and see what other options come up.

  • Book companies and vendors. There are companies that buy and sell used textbooks, and sometimes you’ll find good deals there. A few to try: Better World Books;; CampusBooks,com;;;; … do a search and you’ll find many more. Keep in mind that book companies also buy back used textbooks, often paying for shipping, at prices better than the local campus bookstore can offer.

  • If your books just aren’t worth selling back, consider donating them to organizations such as Books for Africa. Better yet, hold a book drive on your campus to send used books and funds to people who need them (Books for Africa, Room to Read, Worldfund, Invisible Children, and more) – check out Better World Books;; and other book companies for more information. Not only will the textbooks go to a good cause, they will not end up in a landfill. AND – you can earn money for your campus organization! (Win-Win!!)

E-Books. Again, this is not exactly new, but there are new players and better options. Many of the book publishers have online versions of the textbooks they sell – at a reduced price; so check out the book publisher’s website for details. There are a number of sites that offer the classic texts, novels, and books free:
Google Books:;
Many Books:;
Project Gutenberg:;
do a search for “free eBooks” and you will find others as well.

Amazon has two great new devices called the Kindle and Kindle DX. They are small, slim 3G wireless reading devices that let you download ebooks in 60 seconds! No monthly fees, no service plans, no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots. (I have a Kindle, and that means reading my web email, posting to Twitter, catching up on Facebook, and surfing the Web in the car!! And, of course, reading books!) Check them out at (, click on Kindle for more information. It’s rumored that Amanzon and several major textbook companies are working together for better pricing on the Kindle and textbooks. I know there are a number of universities looking into this option for students.

Barnes and Noble also has eBooks available, some free, and a free downloadable eReader – software that lets you read ebooks on your iPhone, Blackberry, or your desktop ( click on the link ‘download eReader’).

If you’ve never read an eBook – download a free one today and check out the tools available. You can highlight, take clippings, bookmark, and (what I like best) SEARCH! When you study, wouldn’t it be great to search your textbook like you search websites for specific terms?

Renting/Lending Textbooks. Now this is an old idea with a new twist! There are a number of universities and book companies that have a number of textbook rental options. The prices are usually much cheaper than the new retail price of the book. Check with your university bookstore to see if they are planning a rental option for students; some are working directly with book publishers and vendors. If not, there are websites that have online textbook rental options for students, although shipping & handling, along with shipping times, make this a less desirable option than renting through a university program. There is a company, called Cengage Learning that plans to make the first couple of chapters of the rented text available online to students, so last-minute ordering isn’t such a problem. They also announced that they would start renting books to students this year, at 40 percent to 70 percent of the sale price.

There are a couple of new Internet textbook-rental companies, BookRenter (, and Chegg ( that billed itself as “the Netflix for college textbooks.” Both advertise books at 65 – 85% off the regular price of textbooks. This is another option definitely worth looking into!

But don’t delay – order your textbooks as soon as possible so you have them in time for classes! (Ok – that’s the professor in me speaking!) Good luck with your textbook search, and good luck in your courses this fall!


  1. As a college student I know textbooks are expensive. I feel like most of the money I make during the year goes to purchasing my books for next quarter.

    To cope with the problem, I've actually tried many of the above options, and found one to be specifically helpful. is an eTextbook website that offers thousands of books for the cheapest prices I've found. In fact, the books were about half the price of any other textbook I encountered, and there were no shipping costs or anything because I accessed the books online. But you can also download the book and access it offline, or view the book on your iphone on the way to class or to cram before an exam.

    The note-taking and quick-search functions also really helped my studying. Overall, the etextbook was a great study tool for me, and I'd recommend it to anyone trying to cut textbook costs and save time while maximizing study potential.

  2. Thanks for the comment! I know, and have worked with, - I do think publishers and authors have to rethink their current business model and start offering all current textbooks in alternative formats. I'd also like to read up on the current research regarding students' acceptance and use of eBooks - it's a mixed bag with my students. (Personally, I'd rather read books on my Kindle than my laptop - the paper/ink technology is much easier on the eyes, and the small size is perfect for mobility. Not to mention the Internet access!)