Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Textbook Alternatives - 2011

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 textbook 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 with 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. It is now required to give students this information in the US. 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.

Check out your alternatives!

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. Amazon.com or eBay 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. (Be careful about purchasing the “international” edition; they can be different, or lack content.)
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). 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!!)

Again, this is not exactly new, but there are new players and better options. Many of the book publishers have online or downloadable versions of the textbooks they sell – at a reduced price; so check out the book publisher’s website for details. Coursemart is a website that offers books that can be downloaded for 40-50% of the purchase price. To prevent resale of the book, there is a 180 day limit on use of the online book.

There are a number of sites that offer the classic texts, novels, and books free:
A number of vendors have great new devices available called e-readers. They are small, slim (sometimes 3G wireless) reading devices that let you download ebooks in 60 seconds - no monthly fees, no service plans, no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots. Others, if you want Internet access, have a monthly fee for the Internet service. I have a Kindle (inexpensive, and uses paper technology rather than an LSD display) and an iPad, both are acceptable, and good alternatives. Check them out.

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?

Be sure to check out the eBook vendors carefully – some eBooks are only available for a specific period of time; some are only accessible on the computer you use to download the book; as well as other limitations.

Renting/Lending Textbooks.
Now this is an old idea with a new twist! There are now a large number of universities, book companies, and publishing companies that have 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, might make this a less desirable option than renting through a university program. There is a company, called Cengage Learning that makes the first couple of chapters of the rented text available online to students, so last-minute ordering isn’t such a problem. They also rent books to students at 40 percent to 70 percent of the sale price, and give you the option of renting selected chapters of books.

There are now a number of Internet textbook-rental companies, here’s two to get you started looking for the best deals: www.BookRenter.com , and www.Chegg.com. Both advertise books at 65 – 85% off the regular price of textbooks.

Other alternatives to look into:

Older editions. Updated textbooks are constantly being released, often with little change to the content. Ask the professor if the previous edition will suffice.

The library. Don't overlook the possibility that the college or public library has a copy of the required text. Especially in the case of literary classics, many of which are also available free on the Internet, it makes sense to investigate.

Don’t delay – order your textbooks as soon as possible so you have them in time for classes! (That’s the professor in me speaking.) Check your college bookstore’s web site for ordering convenience and peace of mind. Your local college store guarantees the correct title and edition chosen by your instructor, and may be the quickest, safest option. Know your store’s refund policy, especially deadlines. This way, you won’t be disappointed if you drop a class. Keep receipts. Most stores require them for returns.

Good luck with your textbook search, and good luck in your courses this year!


  1. Another good site to compare prices on college textbooks is http://www.CollegeTextbooks.net

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    Fast, reliable and safe. Save up to 95% on select books.

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