College textbook prices have increased faster than tuition and inflation and are 812 percent higher than they were just three decades ago. The average college student will spend $1,168 on books and materials each year, with a single new textbook costing as much as $300.
Before you rush to the book store and pay full price for new textbooks, consider these options:
First, search for free versions online. As soon as you get your list of required readings, scour the internet for free versions. Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and Flat World Knowledge all post e-books/texts that can be accessed for free. Sometimes you will only need to read one or two chapters from a book, and you may be able to find these readings online as free PDFs or in the form of free previews on sites such as Google Books and Amazon. Often, professors request you buy their course packet made up of a variety of readings from different sources. See if you can find these readings online instead of shelling out the cash for the course packet. Even if you have to pay for a couple of readings, it may be cheaper than the cost of buying the entire packet.
Then, check your local library. Many professors set aside copies of textbooks at the library for students to use for free. You can make copies of the readings from each textbook as you need them. Also, check the local city library. Keep in mind, that the book may not be available when you need it, so this may not be the most convenient option.
If you can’t find free versions online or at the library, comparison shop and buy used. Buying used will save you tons of money. The best way to comparison shop is to use the book’s ISBN number to be sure you are finding the exact version requested. (Older editions are always worth a look. Always check with your professor first. Many times they will allow it if the information has not been drastically changed.) Check sites such as Amazon, eBay, and Half.com. You can also use comparison shopping sites such as Book.ly or BestBookBuys.com. Always check the prices of used books at the book store for comparison (since you will not have to pay a shipping fee if you can purchase it at the book store).
Consider renting textbooks. You can rent books online at sites such as Chegg.com and BookRenter.com. Many colleges now offer the option of renting through the book store. Savings from renting can be as much as half of the cost of the book as long as you are careful to return your books on time so rentals aren’t converted to purchases.
Download e-books. E-reader versions are often significantly cheaper and you don’t actually have to own an e-reader to benefit from these savings. The free Kindle reading app is compatible with PC, Mac, iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Android-based devices. You can also rent textbooks via the Kindle app. Often, the price of rental increases as the amount of time you need the book for increases. You can also check CourseSmart.com, a collaboration of textbook publishers that offer thousands of textbooks in less expensive e-book formats.
Reach out to fellow students. Before you purchase your books, reach out to fellow students to see if they already have the books you are looking for. Chances are they will offer you a more generous price than you will find at the book store.
If it comes down to it and you must purchase a new book from the book store (this will often happen if you don’t start the search early enough before classes start), ask some of your classmates whether they are willing to split the bill and share the book.
Finally, sell books you won’t need in the future at the end of the semester. Just as you started the semester comparing costs at the book store to online sites, do the same when selling your textbooks. Often, you will be able to get a better offer online from sites such as Amazon, Half.com, Chegg.com, and eBay.