College Textbooks on a Budget
8/3/2017 9:49:43 AM

You’ve paid the tuition and fees, chosen a meal plan, and outfitted the dorm room with all the necessities. But there’s one more major expense you may not have planned for – the college bookstore and that list of required reading material.

A recent study by the United States Government Accountability office showed that the average textbook prices have risen 82% in just ten years.

Many expected internet access would help lower the costs of textbooks, but the college textbook industry is determined to prevent students from saving money by using such tactics as college specific books, book bundling, and eTextbooks, all of which raise prices.

Fortunately, there are solutions. You just need to do a little homework before classes begin. "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 and These free services help students locate the cheapest prices for millions of books.

Here is Mann’s list of college textbook industry tactics and tips to navigate around them and pay less.

  • College Specific Books: Colleges often ask 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. 
  • Instead: Ask the professor if it’s okay to use the book’s common version. The common version will be available online and, in most cases, be less expensive. Other than the cover, the book is exactly the same. When you rent or buy it online, you’ll be able to rent or buy it used from anyone.
  • Book Bundling: Students may be required to buy a "book bundle” with extra class materials that add to the cost. These bundles often include items the professors won’t even use. 
  • Instead: Email the professor or wait until the class starts and ask if the professor will use the supplemental material. If the answer is no, then buy only the textbook online.
  • eTextbooks: eTextbooks are generally more expensive than buying a book used or renting it, and they typically expire after six months or a year.
  • Instead: 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. This allows you to keep the book if you want, or you can sell it later.
  • Timing: Sometimes students don’t discover what textbooks they need until a couple of weeks before classes start, giving them little time to shop around.
  • Instead: Don’t stress over getting your books before classes start. If you don’t mind a little inconvenience, wait until you’re a couple days into the school year before buying. The professor may even tell you that you don’t need the book. If it is required, you can shop online and still have the book within a couple days.
  • New Editions: Manns says this is an age-old problem. Publishers release new versions of books every few years, even though the content changes little. Usually buying an older edition gives you the information you need. Older editions often cost less than $25.
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Categories: Finances

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