Textbook Buying Tips


The College Board estimates that in-state, yearly books and supplies in 2018 for the average full-time undergraduate at a four-year public college is $1,298. According to the National Association of College Stores, the average price of a new textbook rose from $58.00 in 2011-12 to $80.00 in 2015-16.

Textbooks account for nearly three-fourths of the cost at community colleges and about one quarter the cost at public universities, according to the Government Accountability Office. A major cause of recent price hikes has been the bundling of enhancements such as CD-ROMs and other instructional supplements. Sales volume in campus stores is influenced by many factors, but the major factor seems tied to institution size. Estimated average annual sales for stores in 2015-16 were $2.3 million.

How to cope with these spiraling costs?

The most cost-effective approach may be to buy the textbooks used, maintain them in the best condition, then sell them back when finished. For example, you might purchase a used edition of The Art of Public Speaking for $28.98 at Half.com and then sell it back for $17.88 to another merchant – end cost will be $11.10 (not counting shipping.)

It’s important to always use textbook ISBN numbers to maintain the accuracy of your price comparison searches. Using the unique ISBN instead of the author or title will result in speedier searches that are 100 percent accurate. (The ISBN is the 10 or 13 digit number on the back of the textbook, usually printed above or below a barcode, which includes the publisher’s name, the publisher’s geographic location, and the book edition.) Without the specific ISBN you may end up buying the wrong edition of the textbook, the study guide instead of the text, or even the wrong book (carrying the same title.)

Before comparison shopping for the best price on textbooks, check to see if you can get them for free. List in hand, try searching online at sites like BookBooN, FlatWorldKnowledge, and TextbookRevolution.

You can also check into borrowing textbooks from your college library, but try to visit early before the semester starts. Browse the library’s catalog for books that are required (some may be available to check out, while others may be restricted to in-library usage).

If the texts you need are not available, ask if the library is part of a lending consortium. Inter-library loan programs widen the range of materials available through multi-library lending. (For example, see the Tampa Bay Library Consortium, OhioLINK, and Texshare.)

Another option is book trading or swapping. Check sites like Swapbooks and CollegeSwapShop to trade books you have used for those you need. There are many more.

Are you ready to comparison shop? Many times you can purchase lightly used text books in good condition for over 50 to 75 percent less than what you would pay at the campus store. Textbooks can now be purchased new, used, as a rental or in digital (ebook) format, offering you savings according to preference. To combat rising costs and significant savings, the Association of American Publishers suggests students use CourseSmart to rent their textbooks each semester.

Again, start looking for textbooks early for the best selection and availabiility. Colleges are required to publish course textbooks with their ISBN numbers and retail prices on online class schedules. This enables students to price shop before they come on campus or to the campus book store.

Whichever avenue you choose, we have compiled a directory of the best college textbook search engines, to help you buy, sell, or rent your books. Happy hunting!

bluearrow-3789685See also, Discount Textbooks, Sticker Shock: Why Are Textbooks So Expensive, and Textbook Buybacks: How to Get a Better Return.