5 Ways to Save on College Textbooks


We just moved our oldest son into his first apartment, at Temple University in Philadelphia. We were somewhat mentally prepared for the idea of college, but the financial wallop that all those little costs add up to is frankly overwhelming. I’m talking scientific calculators, lab fees, internet connections, trash bags and toilet paper. Pots and pans and paying for the power to use them.

Ugh. And textbooks. Twenty years later and a million technological advances later, how am I still spending so much on textbooks?

Here’s a guest post about how the college textbook industry is still charging you too much for textbooks… and how to work your way around it.


5 Ways to Save on College Textbooks

A recent study by the United States Government Accountability office showed that the average prices for textbooks have risen 82 percent in just 10 years.

Many expected that internet access would help bring costs down, but the college textbook industry appears to be keeping students from saving money by using such tactics as college specific books, book bundling and eTextbooks, all of which raise prices.

Luckily there is something you can do about it. You just need to do a little homework before classes start.

“There are many ways you can save when buying textbooks that the college textbook industry doesn’t want you to know about,” says Chris Manns of the price comparison websites CheapestTextbooks.com and TextbookRentals.com. Both free services help students locate the cheapest prices for millions of books.

Here’s his list of the ways the college textbook industry gets you to pay more, and some tips for paying less:


College Specific Books:

Colleges have started asking students to buy college specific books. They take a commonly used textbook and have it printed with the college name and course number on the cover. This gives the book a new ISBN (International Standard Book Number) that is typically only available at the college it was made for.


The workaround:

Ask the professor if it’s OK to use the book’s common version. “The common version will be available online and, in almost all cases, be much cheaper and apart from the cover, it’ll be the exact same. When you rent or buy it online, you’ll be able to rent or buy it used from anybody,” Manns says.


Book Bundling:

Students are sometimes required to buy a “book bundle” with extra class materials that add to the cost. “These bundles often include items the professors aren’t even using,” Manns says.


The workaround:

Email the professor or wait until the class starts and ask if the professor will be using the supplemental material. “If the answer is no, then buy just the textbook online,” Manns says.


New Editions:

“This problem has been around a long time,” Manns says. Publishers release new versions of books every few years, even though little changes.


The workaround:

Usually, buying an older edition gives you the information you need. Older editions often cost less than $25.



eTextbooks are usually more expensive than buying a book used or renting it, and they typically expire after six months or a year.


The workaround:

Shop around. Most eTextbooks are available from multiple sellers. If you have the option, go old-school and buy the hard cover or paperback, which will typically be much cheaper. “That way you can keep it if you want, or you can sell it later,” he says.


Access Codes:

The college-textbook industry has found a way to try and force students to buy new textbooks.Sometimes they add access codes so the student can use online material in conjunction with the textbook.These codes are usually only able to be used once.


The workaround:

Publishers typically sell access codes for their textbooks on their websites and savvy students sell them online after they’ve bought them with a bundle and didn’t use them. First, ask the professor if the class requires the access codes for the online material (sometimes they don’t). If they do, go online to a textbook price comparison site and find them using the name of the course or ISBN number for the access codes. If you can’t buy the access codes that way, then go to the publisher’s website and see how much it is to buy just the access codes. Buying separately and also renting or buying the textbook used will usually still be much cheaper than buying the textbook new with the access codes.


Chris Manns is the managing director of the price-comparison websites CheapestTextbooks.com and TextbookRentals.com. He’s been in the business of helping students find the cheapest prices for their textbooks since 2001.


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