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Ask the Readers: How Do You Save Money on Textbooks?

It’s that back-to-school time of year again and we’re interesting in your tips, tricks, and resources for saving on textbooks.

Textbooks are an outright racket and nobody should have to pay full retail for them. This week we’re interested in your tips for shaving down your back-to-school bill. Where do you go for cheap textbooks? What tricks do you use to minimize your costs? Sound off in the comments and help your fellow readers save.

Check back on Friday for the What You Said roundup to learn more tricks for saving on textbooks.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 08/24/11

Comments (53)

  1. Odin

    At my university, copying is free, so I just get my books from the library and copy all the pages I need.

  2. @TechJLS3

    I buy international, buy from people who recent took the class, and share a text book with a friend.

  3. Hatryst

    I don’t buy them :)

    Yes, seriously, I just get a book from the library when required, and that’s just enough for making notes and stuff. Sometimes I get a part copied for future reference (yeah, copying isn’t a good idea, but we’re students after all, and what we are doing is for our education, so I guess we shouldn’t be in a lawsuit for this!)

    Other than that, Google Books has a wide variety of informative material. Just referring to it, I rarely use digital stuff in my studies, since I don’t have an e-book reader.

  4. Gouthaman Karunakaran

    I am an English major and most of the stuff we read is found on Gutenberg, apart from that I visit the libraries (if needed) to refer to rare/expensive books.

    If I really need to buy a book, I order it online (flipkart.com – a reliable Indian shopping site and it reaches my place in a couple of days).

    My college is really lenient with the cellphone policy and I use my the aldiko app on my Android if I need to check something during class.

  5. Jeffeb3

    I always bought books on half.com. Usually they were a lot cheaper because they were the “international version”. They weren’t supposed to be, but what do you expect for 1/4 the price? Occasionally you’d get a decent hardcover that was just used.

    They were usually paperback, and didn’t hold up as well, but mostly they held up enough to last the semester. One of them smelled pretty weird (like gasoline). But I saved a bunch of money.

  6. riin1979

    I always wait until the first week of class to see if I really need the textbook or not. Most of the time, I don’t need it outside a few random instances during the semester. When that happens, my campus library usually has about 4-5 copies of the books on reserve, so I just go there.

    Sometimes though I’ll actually need the textbook, or will want to have it on hand in the future. In this case, I’ll just pick up an older edition of the text from Amazon. Nothing hardly changes from edition to edition, and the price differences between the new and old are insane!

  7. Vaibhav

    Buy books from International market like flipkart.com.
    This does not work for all books but if book is found on flipkart.com, it is pretty cheap.

  8. Atomsk

    I buy from half.com for textbooks. Also a rental service like chegg.com will help!

  9. Nathan

    I used gettextbooks.com to find the lowest price. I always saved a TON over my college’s over-priced bookstore.

  10. kcd

    As a MIS major, I was thankful to find out my school had a subscription to Safari Books. I was able to find almost all of the required books for my courses online.

  11. Mike

    I download trial ebooks from B&N and crack the DRM with python.

    Failing that, I buy used from a local warehouse and pickup to save shipping.

  12. Noah

    I’ve found that by far the best bet if you actually need the book, is to find a classmate who already had the class and give them a few bucks over the pitiful amount your local college store buys them back for. Sometimes you can even trade for books you have (knowing your future class schedule in advance helps a lot). If you must buy the book outright bigwords.com is the best I’ve found, it searches a ton of different used book sites, and offers online books and rentals as well. I’ve even gotten more selling the books to my college bookstore than I paid for ‘em through this site.

  13. FightTheRight

    shoplifting

  14. dima

    half.com

  15. Eric F.

    I’m an IT major, and I pretty much buy all my books through Amazon, either used from someone else selling on Amazon if it’s a book I know I’m not gonna want to keep, and new through Amazon (with the student Prime account, free 2-day shipping ftw!) if it’s something i think i’m gonna want to keep as reference

  16. The Box

    Honestly, I pirated textbooks when I was in college. It was dependent on where you looked and what you had access to, but my school’s Direct Connect network was updated with every edition of virtually every textbook the school and class required, including answer books for math and science classes. All books were scanned and available in PDF form.

    My school caught on, and with some classes (mainly humanities), professors would compile excerpts from various books and force the class to buy them as a poor quality reader printed by the campus. This was harder to get around because the readers still cost $50-$100 each, and the content appeared to change every quarter. Our solution was to pull together about 30 people, buy one reader, then take it to a non-campus affiliated printer. There, they would unbind it and print copies of it. Cost per person came to around $5 per person per class per quarter.

    That was about 5 years ago, I’m curious as to what’s available now.

  17. James

    Purchase the previous edition from half.com. Just did this for my wife and the difference was simply incredible. The current edition recommended on the syllabus was $100+. The prior edition was $0.75 — that’s 75 cents! The shipping cost more than the book.

    Just check with the professor. But almost always, there’s very little variation edition-to-edition. More money for video games, pizza, and booze. You’re welcome. : )

  18. James

    craigslist is another great place to find awesome book deals. If you’re lucky, you can even find someone out of town who’d be willing to ship it to you for a few bucks. Just offer to pay via PayPal and you’re all set.

    Post the books you’re after on craigslist. Offer to go halvsies with someone. Or get a group of ppl together to chip in. Then make a trip to Kinkos to copy off the chapters as needed.

    If you’re very lucky, you might be able to find an edition of the book on bittorrent. But usually not. Worth a look.

  19. Jack

    My family are friends with another one that live up the road from us and their son is only a year ahead of me. I get all my textbooks from him second hand. The rest I buy off of Amazon for next to nothing

  20. AA

    I prefer to download textbooks when possible. IRC is fairly reliable, especially for programming, math and physics.

    When I can’t download it, I buy it brand new in the bookstore on campus with my credit card. I also order a cheaper, usually used version off chegg / half / amazon / ebay. When my cheaper book comes in the mail I return the new one for a full refund.

    If you’re set on buying a book from amazon, try using http://www.amazon.co.uk if you’re in the US. I had a $144 math book that was $74 from the .co.uk site. Publishers use localized prices most of the time, you can usually find a better price if you’re willing to pay for shipping.

  21. david

    Buy off Amazon
    Sell on Amazon

  22. Trish

    chegg.com you can rent the books cheap for a semester and postage paid returns.

  23. devin

    Firstly, I never buy the textbook before classes start. A lot of professors I’ve had have been OK with us having a previous edition, or not even having the book at all.

    When I do actually buy a book, I always check for international editions. They are significantly cheaper and a little lighter as well. Other than that, I usually get them from Amazon. Their free year of Amazon Prime for students was pretty nice. Free two day shipping for a year!

  24. Ryan

    Find out which books I need from my college’s bookstore website and get the ISBN number. Need to do this about 2 weeks before classes start.

    Gen Eds – Rent from Chegg.com or buy an ebook if it is cheaper

    Course Books I might use later – textbooks.com or buy an ebook if it is cheaper

    I also sell my books to one of the site and I get credit towards my next purchase.

  25. Tanya D

    I used to buy my books used from Amazon. Now I am in love with Chegg.com! I saved over $200 on books for my grad school class this term by renting from them. There’s the option to buy if you find that you’ll need the book later. You can also extend your rental, let’s say if you need to use the same book in a sequential course, just extend instead of sending it back and shipping it all over.

    Fast shipping and good customer service.

  26. Jan Mishkin

    This is a question. Has anyone bought a Kindle and used it for purchasing textbooks? I am considering doing this but do not know the availability of textbooks.

  27. StevenTorrey

    Yeah, what are these college textbooks teaching @ $100 that couldn’t be larned from a $20 or $40 book? A book picked off the local bookstore–if such a creature exists anymore. The learning comes from the teacher’s pedagogical approach as much as it does from the book. Someone is getting ripped off. Education, which should be democratic–available to all with sufficient wit to sit in the class–becomes available only to those with the financial resources to buy overpriced books.

  28. Gil

    I don’t spend anything more than shipping for my textbooks. I take all my classes online, the college ships the books I need, when the semester is over – I ship them back to the college. If I really feel I need one of the books for my library, I’ll go to Amazon and get it, but that hasn’t happened as yet.

  29. Idaho Pirate

    The content of most math & science texts does not change very much; I buy old classics example: Churchill for Complex Variables, Sokolnikoff & Redheffer for Adv Eng Math, each for $1 plus ship = $4.00

    no single text gives a good explanation of every subject . . so, I always have 32 or 3 old books on the subject matter

    and then doas the above suggested

  30. Becky

    My daughter rents, mostly from chegg.com. You can go broke paying full price, it’s ridiculous.

  31. khakimo

    that’s easy – I don’t buy them! If you are in school, please consider you are already in trouble and will have to later spend much time unlearning all the crap they loaded you up with.

  32. Pegi

    Recently bought a new biology book from ecampus.com for one my grandson had lost. I paid a fraction of the cost & it arrived in a timely fashion.
    His high school recommended we should buy a used book online but I found tthe new book was cheaper than many used ones. Have no idea why anyone would pay the retail price for any textbook.

  33. Phineas Rhyne

    My wife ends up buying international editions of books she wants to keep for reference, and gets everything she can apart from that off chegg.com. Unfortunately, chemistry lab manuals are a new-only proposition, so we still get cut fairly deeply each semester.

  34. Jason

    I have not done this and I have only seen it done once. My “friend” went to a torrent site and downloaded his humanities book in pdf format. He could use adobe to search the text for answers instead of dealing with all that pesky reading. The legality of this may be questionable at best so download at your own risk.

  35. John in Lexington, SC

    I have found that the best way to save on textbooks is to graduate and never buy another one in your life if you don’t want to… But in all seriousness, copying small portions of text for quoting or reference is legal, but wholesale copying of textbooks IS illegal, and the vendors COULD pursue it. A few good sources i have found are online. I go to Google Shopping, Abe Books, and Amazon.com to search for what I need. I got out of college a long time ago, but I still try to keep up and have a huge number of books I have collected over the years. Sometimes you even find a deal on eBay on a book…

  36. Keila

    A M A Z O N — I bought 14 books for $230. They’ll even link you to other 3rd party sellers if they have a cheaper option; sometimes abebooks.com has the cheapest option… ebay.com is good too but you have to be a little more careful to ensure that you get the correct edition.

  37. Dan

    There are many mentions of Chegg.com. My daughter and I found that CollegeBookRenter.com was much less expensive. We also go to CampusBooks.com where you can search for the cheapest rental or purchase for the books you need.

    Probably one of the best things to happen is NewEgg.com started selling textbooks for dirt cheap!!!

    Other websites: TextBooks.com, Alibiri.com, BookByte.com, Amazon.com. All were extremely helpful in saving over $250 in books!

  38. Benny

    My schools bookstore is WAY overpriced. E-Bay helps me out alot! Torrents have resources as well.

  39. Devin

    My school’s bookstore is extremely expensive. Especially when you compare their prices to the actual cost of the book, and the prices on sites such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble. I personally don’t buy physical copies of my books I need. I have an Asus G73 that I take to school and I have e-books of all my text books. And I can even put them on my phone for whenever I’m on the road or my laptop isn’t with me or dead. It’s a really good way to go about doing it.

  40. Craig

    Rent the book from Barnes and Noble’s NookStudy. That way, it’s electronic, you don’t have to carry a book around, you can take notes, and you don’t have to worry about returning anything-once the rental expires (about 6 months) you don’t have access to the book anymore.

    Craig

  41. Michael F.

    I first search for a .pdf download to load onto my tablet and if I come up empty, I buy the international version which I’d rather not do because of the weight of most textbooks I use.

  42. robert.k

    I THINK WERE LOOKING FOR A LINK TO A SITE WERE WE CAN GET THEM FOR FREE, WOULD IT BE BOLD OF ME TO SUGGEST A FEW SUCH SITES Please let me know and ill trow a few suggestions up and hopefully get some back

  43. Chris

    I try and sign up for the same classes as a couple of my friends and we buy one book and pass it between us as needed. This causes some stress sometimes if the instructor assigns a lot of reading from it, but this doesn’t happen very often. I also buy most of my books from Amazon as I have always been happy with their prices, book quality, and shipping speeds.

  44. princemooch

    Most of the time we get them given to us by the school, but for science we’re told to use the library encyclopedia’s, nobody does though. I just use think.com.

  45. Subodh

    My college library provides all the necessary text books at the start of a semester and after the end of the semester, we have to return it and get books for the new semester. For any reference books we can borrow it from the library and return within 1 week or we’ll have to pay a little fine for each extra day.

  46. Silver Sparrow

    most textbooks in india come to around RS 650 so i just borrow my friends and photocopy, around RS 300

  47. Sherri

    I was a true believer in renting from Chegg.com until I realized I could usually buy the same textbooks at textbooks.com for the same price as renting them. Since most of my classes I will be referring back to the textbooks, I prefer to buy them. Friends are always a great way to go too, if you are taking a class they just finished.

  48. Felix

    Craigslist….Full of students in your area trying to ditch books to grab some booze. I just bought a $180 book for $30 bucks.

  49. Wm

    Simple. Make all textbooks available on a NOOK or similar electronic device.

  50. Malcolm

    I buy out of date text books from Alibris, and back them up with the latest info from the internet. U Tube is good for doing free online university courses. MIT & Stanford are great. Complete course lectures for free . Very kind of them to do this for us. Brilliant this modern technology.

  51. Wuzisname

    Suggest the free sites!!!! or at least email them to me

  52. shamsh

    I am retied now but I have worked as electrical/electronic engineer and professor of electrical/electronics. I have developed self learning software (two packages with text books) to learn basic courses – Direct current and Alternate currents. Each software is interactive with sound and allow user to multiple exercise with feedback. I own all the rights and want to distribute it free. The knowledge is usefull for first and second semester technical college education and first year of university engineering program

  53. Kari

    @Jan Mishkin

    This is exactly what I did and I love it for two reasons. First, the ebooks are usually cheaper, two it is so much lighter to just carry around an ereader instead of four textbooks. I guess there is a third reason now that I think about it. If you have a class that allows open book tests then you can use the kindle search feature to help you find your answers, saved me a lot of time on tests.

    One thing you should think about though is the program you are in and if a majority of the books are available in kindle or pdf format. If not it may not be worth your time.

    Also see if your program has a set list of books that you will use or if they change from quarter to quarter. In my program they give you a list of all the books you will need for all your classes so I was able to check if there was an ebook version pretty easily.

    For free ebooks check out project gutenburg.

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