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How to Save Money on College Textbooks

If you haven’t been to college in a while you might be surprised to learn that some college textbooks can cost as much as $200 apiece. Students are doing everything they can to find their textbooks outside of the college bookstore. But they are running into a few snags when they tried to save money on required texts.

At the same time, your college bookstore is doing everything it can to keep your textbook dollars being spent within its walls. One recent invention is the custom college bookstore packet. This often consists of a photocopied packet along with the most recent hardback textbook edition. The photocopied packet is often a chapter or two from an out-of-print text. Bundling these two items together, in effect, prevent students from purchasing a used textbook, thereby increasing profits for the University bookstore. Recently, it was discovered that copyright infringement was occurring with the photocopied packets, so this practice may be on the decline.

Another kind of bundle is the one created by the textbook publisher. Textbook companies put in compact discs, small supplements of their own, and everyone’s favorite the online access code. Many students report that having the online access code is not an advantage in the class. The online access code is not available on the outside of the bundle, and so you must open the bundle to get access to the code. Once the bundle is open, your college bookstore has the right to refuse a return on this item, and will probably not buy it back from you. Ask the professor if the bundle is really necessary.

As you are searching for your course textbooks in the University bookstore, you will see signs boasting that you can resell your books at the end of the term for as much as 50%, as long as the book will be used in the following term. In practice, this does not turn out to be true very often. University professors are fond of using the most recent edition of the text. And since these editions do not come out on the professors’ schedules, you may get a rude surprise at the end of the term when you find out your professor is moving on to the next edition.

The time to research ways to save money on college textbooks is before the class begins. Your research chores should include online searches, posting notices for the books you seek, taking a class with a friend to share the cost of a textbook joint-purchase, finding a student who has recently taken the same course and lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you should ask your professor is a used version of it required textbook will be suitable. In many cases it will, and you can purchase it from that student who took the course last term.

Be on the lookout for custom editions at your University bookstore. If you see the required text is a custom edition, realize that your professor has ordered from the publisher a textbook that you could buy online, but with a couple of chapters missing or perhaps chapters in a different order. You will need to be able to compare the custom book with the edition available online, and in many cases you will be able to meet the requirements of the course with the book purchased online.

Another thing to watch out for is the loose-leaf or binder-ready textbook. If you plan on trying to sell back any of your required textbooks, you will want to avoid buying a binder-ready book, as these are not going to be purchased back at the end of term. These binder-ready books are usually the same as normal bound textbooks that are available used. It will pay you to investigate, so talk to the professor to see if you can just use the normal bound book.

Do not assume that the online price will be cheaper than your college bookstore. In the case of new editions it is sometimes the college bookshop that has cheaper price.

And don’t neglect your university library as a resource. The college library might have an older edition of your required text available to borrow or perhaps on reserve. If the book is on reserve you will be able to read the book in the library in two or three hour sections.

Buying an expensive college textbook is no different than buying any other consumer good. A wise consumer will do research, ask the experts and shop around.

The best time to do your shopping research is before the class starts, but the optimal time to make the purchase is between the first and second class meeting. In the first class meeting, you will have access to the class syllabus, see the required textbook materials that the professor has ordered and ask questions about each component of the required materials. It will not be until after the class meets that you will have the full information you need to make the best purchase decisions.

Below: Local news report on the high price of textbooks.


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