8 Insider Tips to Saving Money on Textbooks

ways to save money on textbooks

As an academic librarian, the biggest complaint I hear isn't about my shushing, it's about the price of textbooks. When I was a young lass, I knew little about purchasing textbooks. I only knew of the campus bookstore that squeezed every last dime out of my sweaty fresh meat hand and helped me to rack up some major credit card debt. (Read this next part in a Teddy Roosevelt voice.) But with the Information Age upon us, young people have the ability to choose textbooks from a variety of vendors and save their hard-earned pennies. (End Teddy Roosevelt voice.) Ok, let's get serious, y'all, today I'm here to share some of the best librarian tricks I've found to beating the evils of high  textbook prices.

8 Insider Tips to Saving Money on Textbooks…

1. Used Books (duh!)

Most campus bookstores will offer used editions of textbooks at a reduced rate. But don’t forget about off-campus bookstores and independent bookstores, too. Often times there will be less competition (i.e. less markup) at bookstores that don’t market themselves as place for textbooks. Check out Indiebound for your local independent bookstore.

2. Online Marketplaces

Amazon isn’t just for binge-ordering gluten-free granola. Amazon started out as a bookseller and remains one of the best and biggest in the business. Bonus tip: Try Half.com (an Ebay affiliate) for deals too!

But don’t just shop the big-name online marketplaces for discounts. Other online booksellers, like Bookbyte and Biblio can offer used textbooks at a more affordable price.

Textbook Price Comparison will even do some of the comparison shopping for you. Just type in your book's ISBN (that really long number usually located above the barcode) and you'll see a breakdown of book prices on select sites.

3. Rent Books

Renting textbooks is becoming the norm at many campuses. But again, that campus bookstore can markup rentals too. Consider renting your textbooks from an online site, such as Chegg. Just make sure you keep your books in tip-top shape! You'll have to return them like that Marc Jacobs sweater you can't afford.

4. Electronic Books

Open Source (Free Ebooks!)

You’ve probably heard of GoogleBooks by now. If you haven’t, crawl out from under that rock and check it out. GoogleBooks isn’t great for textbooks since most of their full-text books are older books that have fallen out of copyright. But don’t discount it, GoogleBooks is particularly good for those World Lit courses or that (dreaded) Shakespeare course.

Other amazing open source Ebook projects include Project Gutenberg and the Internet Public Library. If you haven’t checked these sites out, they’re definitely worth a long procrastination session.

E-Book Vendors

Not all e-books are free, of course, but oftentimes e-books are offered at a reduced rate. Sites like CourseSmart and ECampus sell textbook e-books. E-books are great for that forgetful student (me) that never remembers to bring her textbook to class.

5. Library Books

I can’t forget about the most magical place in all the land– the library! The campus library has so many options for helping you get those textbooks. Libraries may have the book on the shelf, but in most cases, campus libraries offer course textbooks on reserve. When an item is on reserve, it usually means you can’t check it out, but you can use the item in the library.

If the library doesn’t have the book you need in their general collection or on reserve, it may also offer interlibrary loan services. This means through their own library system or a giant library collective catalog, such as OCLC's WorldCat, you can borrow the book from another library. You may not be able to keep the book all semester, but it’s better than spending your hard-earned ramen money on a book.

6. Book Swaps

Bookswapping is one of my favorite (practically) free ways to get books. Online users swap books for the mere cost of shipping. Check out Paper Back Swap and Book Mooch to see if you can swap out your old books for textbooks.

If you've been in college a few years, you could even organize a book swap among friends or dorm-wide! Make it big, fight the man, save some cash.

7. International Edition

Here’s a little insider knowledge: Textbook manufacturers often create an international edition of a textbook to sell worldwide. The international version is often priced cheaper than the American version to fit the competitive prices of books in the destination country. AbeBooks offers the ability to search for international editions of textbooks. Just remember that the international edition is worldly. She's been places. She may not be exactly the same as the American edition.

8. Don't forget to sell your books back!

Refrain from your desire to stick Lisa Frank stickers all over your textbooks. Don't drop them in a puddle of beer. And sell them at the end of the semester! There's a ton of options to sell your books– Amazon, Campus Books, your DeadHead neighbor– they all want your Abnormal Psychology book. Sell it before your professor changes the class textbook!


How do you save money on textbooks and going back to school in general?

Melanie saves college students from the perils of research as a librarian. When she's not saving students, her superpowers include DIY projects and living small in an Airstream trailer. You can read more about Melanie's adventures on her blog, Love Library