The Truth About College Textbooks, And How to Save on Them

Like many students off to college for the first time, I went to get my assigned class books at one of the local bookstores the week before classes started… and was blown away by prices of them.

I couldn’t believe it was legal, actually. And the thicker the book, the more the dollars seemed to skyrocket and fly out of my bank about. What’s more, used books became a coveted commodity, those little yellow stickers disappearing as fast as possible.

So after my first semester, I became convinced there had to be a better way, a cheaper way. So, I turned to my trusty friend, the Internet.

Don’t Blame the Bookstore

According to the National Association of College Stores, bookstores around the nation don’t make much off of selling textbooks, with roughly 76% of the sticker price going back to the publisher. Also, the store you’re buying from doesn’t control what books they’re required to stock, that’s all on the staff of the school, who also spend a good deal of time picking books to suit their class needs.

So why do they cost so much? Well, unlike general audience books (fiction, non-fiction, etc.) these books require, and are sold to, only a very narrow audience. On top of that, it’s not a desire driven market, as in people are not waiting in anticipation of the next version of the textbook like they are for the next Stephen King novel. They’re also very time intensive to produce, with a lot of research going into all of them. They’re fact-checked like crazy and are updated all the time to stay current. A lot of work by some very smart individuals go into making them.

Don’t Pay Full Price! Ever!

Now that I’ve made you feel bad about buying on the cheap, here are some great resources to do exactly that. With the world practically at your fingertips via the web, websites fully devoted to selling and reselling college textbooks have sprung up like weeds…the good kind of weeds that is. The first and most prominent is simply Amazon. Most of the time you can find used copies of just about anything for pennies on the dollar.

Chegg may be a funny sounding name, but it’s all business when it comes to cheap text books. does exactly what the name says. And it’s partnered with eBay, which brings an extra level of security with it.

BIGWORDS bills themselves as a comparison engine for textbooks, sort of like Hotwire or Expedia for travel prices. Use it to compare multiple textbooks from a ton of sources.

These are just a few, and some of the best, but with a little digging you can find plenty more.

Some Tips on Textbooks

For one, wait until the first class to see if the instructor is actually going to use a particular book. There are times profs change their minds or change directions of the class itself.

Also, ask about, or at least fully understand, the bookstores return policy. It’s possible they may give you until a week or so into the new semester to return a book you don’t need for full price.

Try your best to keep books in pristine condition. I know lugging the bigger ones around (or getting frustrated at them during exam time) may not be conducive to treating them very well, but when it comes to re-selling, especially online, having it in as good of condition as possible can’t hurt.

Times are changing, and have changed, thankfully, to help make textbooks not as much as a financial burden on students as they were in the past. Make sure you do some research before you spend your hard-earned money on textbooks you can get for much, much less.

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Jared Gerling

Jared Gerling

Jared Gerling earned his BA from Michigan State University. Jared has been writing since he was eleven when all his characters had swords and magic spells and bad attitudes. When not writing or studying, he can be found watching Spartan football and basketball games, reading, or working out. Jared currently lives in Chicago pursuing his MA in Writing in Publishing from DePaul University.
Jared Gerling

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