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8 ways to save on college textbooks

College is back in session. That means paying for skyrocketing tuition and high-priced textbooks. Here's how to get big discounts on pricey books.

By Stacy Johnson Aug 29, 2011 12:16PM

This post comes from Gideon Grudo at partner site Money Talks News.


College classes start today for many schools up North. Down South, it was last week. So at the Florida university I attend, I'm starting my second week -- but I haven't bought a single textbook.


It's not because I procrastinated. It's because I've learned that waiting a week can save me big bucks on books.


A textbook can easily cost more than $100 -- and some even go to four figures, according to CBS MoneyWatch's list of the most expensive textbooks. But even the cheapest books add up. The College Board estimates that a student in a four-year school will spend $1,137 on textbooks this year. (Are you saving enough for college? See MSN Money's calculator.)


But I won't. Here's why:


Know your professor. Wait to see if the professor will even require the textbooks the class description says you need. Sometimes they don't. Also check out what past students have said on Some of the ratings are from spiteful students who just make fun of a professor's hair, but others let you know how much you'll really use the required textbooks, if at all.


Get a secondhand education. If you must buy, buy used. InsideHigherEd reported that used books are still at the forefront of bargains on textbooks, even when compared with digital and rental competition (see below). Sites like and have entire sections dedicated to used textbooks.


Rent. MSNBC's School Inc. reported that the demand for textbook rentals is rising more than ever. When you rent, you get the book in the mail, use it for the semester, and then send it back. Shipping the books back is free.


Here are some of the biggest and most reliable sites that rent out textbooks:

Go digital.  Amazon will let you rent a digital copy of a textbook for the semester. You download free software to read the book on your computer, tablet computer, or Kindle.


The Chronicle of Higher Education crunched the numbers and found an accounting book that normally sells for $197 hard copy -- and $109 for the e-book version -- and can be rented for just $57. That's a discount of almost 75%, not far from the 80% savings that Amazon boasts you can regularly get.


There's a downside, though. Since the technology is fairly new, it's not widespread. Dealnews grabbed required textbook lists from three undergraduate classes at large universities. They searched for the books on Amazon's site and didn't find a single one.


Look for your own textbooks on Amazon's rental site before deciding to make the switch.


Make some friends. You're not the first person to take this class. Find people who've taken the class before. Maybe they still have the book.


How do you find them? Tell the professor you'd like to touch base with someone who's taken the class because you have some questions. I've done this before and it works. I got a whole list to choose from.


If you happen to be taking multiple classes with people you know, share. They can buy books for one class while you buy books for the other.


Use social media. Bookstores and rental stores are both using social media to promote themselves, which means savings for you. For example,'s Facebook page offers special deals on both textbook rentals and concerts. The first one is practical; the second one is fun.


Shop and compare. As with most purchases, comparison shopping helps. If you're going to buy, rent or download, check out the competition. Here are some sites that do the work for you:

Become a copy machine. Check out the course syllabus. If the book will only be used for a handful of chapters, it might make sense to borrow the book and make copies of the necessary pages.


My university charges between 5 and 10 cents per copy -- or between $5 and $10 for 100 pages. While this is a cheap option, it might be frowned upon because it's technically a copyright infringement.


More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Aug 29, 2011 12:49PM

"My university charges between 5 and 10 cents per copy -- or between $5 and $10 for 100 pages. While this is a cheap option, it might be frowned upon because it's technically a copyright infringement."


It's not technically a copyright infringement--IT IS COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT! Probably not a good idea to advise students to start their careers in ethical hot water when there are so many other options available that are legal, ethical, and do not short change the author.

Nov 28, 2012 4:39PM
Great article and some useful tips here!  I found a pretty cool infographic on how online readers can save money on college textbooks -  - Thought it might be useful for fellow students - Hope it helps!
Aug 29, 2011 4:46PM

This may seem a bit too simple but how about asking the professor?  I did that this semester: one teacher said the book wasn't required and another said that 10th ed would suffice while the school listed the 12th ed.  The 11th ed of the book is going for around $50, the 12th ed around $100 and the 10th?  I got it for $5, including shipping, on eBay.  It takes a week or so to get it but I emailed all my teachers as soon as I signed up for classes.


Also, look into getting international editions if you can.  Most of them have the same material but have B & W pictures instead of color and other small things like that.


The caveat with both of these is that you won't be able to resell them for anything.  Bookstores won't buy international or outdated editions but spending $10 and getting $0 back is still cheaper than spending $100 and getting $17 back, plus you can keep them as references (not that I think I've ever used old books for that, but I'm young enough that I still have bookcase space to fill).

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