In many countries, college is nowhere close to thrifty. On top of all the effort you need to put into studying and doing assignments, you’re likely to be left with a mountain of debt after graduation (Unless of course you live in Europe like myself and/or
not go to college at all.). Professors don’t pay for textbooks. They get them for free so that they can evaluate them and decide if they want to use them on our course. When a new edition comes out the publisher’s rep will usually email a professor and ask if you’re interested in seeing it. A few days later it’s on your desk with a nice note offering to discuss the changes they’ve made.
As you know, I am a big fan of digital tools and as you may have guessed, I will suggest you ditch the physical textbooks altogether and replace them with e-books, but that’s not all. Here are some tips on saving money on textbooks.
How to Save Money Buying Textbooks
1. Buy used …
First tip – just to have it included on the list – is to simply buy used textbooks. You can find these on Amazon, Craigslist and other online marketplaces (some are listed bellow). There are brick and mortar stores that hold used textbooks, so try getting them there, and some libraries sell older versions of those as well.
When seniors graduate they will gladly sell you their books – you could even buy lots of them in the summer and sell them on when school starts. At our school, we had this once-a-year textbook fairs where we could sell last year’s books and buy ‘new’ ones.
2. … and sell your own.
If also works vice versa – after you’re done with school, sell those textbooks either to freshmen, friends, or online (for example here) and make your money back.
4. Pop! Pop! Pop! Watching Prices Drop
It’s a good idea to buy textbooks later in the year – some of the listed, ‘required’ ones might not be needed after all and you could just study from yours or your friend’s notes. After the first month or so prices tend to drop, especially on used textbooks, and it gets easier to haggle the price down.
5. International edition of college textbooks
Consider getting an international edition off of Amazon/eBay, especially as a US student (I know, I know, the US textbook market is a scam). The covers might look a bit different, but comparing a few random pages, the index, and the page count will likely reveal that it’s essentially the same book only a lot cheaper – even including shipping charges! Be sure to check for the right unit system though.
Instead of shelling out $200 per book, you can order the international version for $20- $50 USD on Abebooks.com. The only difference is that it’s the same print quality as newspaper. The books come from India where copyright laws aren’t as strictly enforced and People can’t afford the glossy paper and colour. So the printers have to compete with the bootleggers and price the books competitively.I found it humorous that the books came with a holographic sticker for authenticity, yes it is that bad over there. Hopefully if enough students start importing textbooks from India, they might reconsider their Satanic pricing schemes in NA.
6. Oldies But Goldies
Your professor might be ok with you using an older edition of the textbooks, as they mostly don’t change much – except for maybe the examples. Write a polite email to them asking if that would be ok and if they have any information on how suitable is that older edition. They might even be able to share an unused copy if you’re super nice.
7. Arr, Arr!
You can always try the ‘nasty’ way and just borrow the textbooks from friends or the library and scan/photocopy them up. Another way is to buy them from a store, scan them and then return them for a refund. I’m not saying you should do it, but I hear there are digital editions of some books available where pirates gather online.
8. Scan It Up
If you happen to do a lot of scanning of what are, naturally, your own books that you purchased in a perfectly legal matter and acquired their authorship rights, you might want to invest in a DIY book scanner like this one. You could hypothetically make money by selling these scans or copies to your buddies and schoolmates, but that would be illegal.
Another thing that is illegal is sending digital textbooks, snatched from the world wide web, to a print-on-demand company and making a physical copy for little money. I totally do not recommend doing that.
10. Best Roomie Ever
If your roommate is taking the same classes, convince her to share the same textbook and split the costs of the purchase.
11. Ditch The Extras
Some textbooks offer additional stuff like online courses and downloadables, but you don’t need to pay for these if you don’t need them; the publishers in USA are required to offer the plain version by law.
If you are assigned a custom edition, 90% of the time it is just the basic ISBN with either certain chapters cut out OR just a different binding (ie softcover instead of hard cover).
The way that you can check is open up to the copyright page (usually the second page). It will say what source material and ISBNs the book is taken from. This will tell you what real edition you can buy instead.
The custom editions never have material custom made for your class. Most of the time it’s just professors that were talked into “making it cheaper for students” by sleazy sales reps.
12. Finally: Let’s Get Digital
In regards to digital copies, investing in a tablet computer or an e-reader can be a perfectly reasonable decision, especially since you’ll never have to print out another textbook or buy it at the full price. Getting a used device will save you even more money.
BONUS: A List Of Places To Get Textbooks Online
There are some websites that have electronic versions of textbooks available online for free. Below are some of the better websites for free online textbooks:
- Google search (type in the ISBN or title and see what comes up – adding ‘pdf’ to the search might help)
- Google Play Store
- http://textbooksplease.com/ (suggested by our reader Laura)