It’s estimated the average college student will pay between $650 and $1000 this year for textbooks (with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics or STEM textbooks being the most expensive). Facing little competition in the market, campus bookstores can charge whatever the market will bear. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that textbooks are 15 times more expensive today than they were in 1970—outpacing the inflation rate by 3-1. While students have decried campus bookstores’ high purchase / low sellback prices for decades, only recently have viable, lower cost alternatives emerged. Here are a few ways you can save on textbooks this year:
Amazon, Half.com and other online sellers are making inroads into the college textbook market with lower prices on new and used editions, as well as great deals on ebooks. Technical textbooks can still cost upwards of $300, even online, so your choice of major plays a major role in how much you’ll spend. That said, switching majors isn’t the answer. Searching for the best textbook deals is. Don’t have time to comparison shop for the lowest online prices? Sites such as Bigwords.com do the legwork for you with a few clicks of the mouse. One caveat: be sure to check the book’s International Standard Book Number (ISBN) to make sure you have the right edition for your class.
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Buy Used or Rent.
If you don’t mind books that are a little dog-eared, buying used makes good financial sense. Another option is renting textbooks. The drawback here is that you will not be able to sell the books back at the end of the term. You may also be dinged for damages beyond normal wear and tear, so don’t plan on jotting any notes in the margins.
Remember when we said textbooks sell for whatever the market will bear? It turns out many foreign markets don’t bear high book prices very well. Long story short—foreign buyers can purchase textbooks at substantial savings, and many of these dealers re-sell them on the U.S. market at greatly reduced prices. How great? Textbook publishers went to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to ban the practice. The Court, however, ruled that Americans have the right to buy and re-sell textbooks as long as they were obtained legally.
Other methods for saving on textbooks include: book sharing (make sure the class doesn’t have an online component that only allows a single user); buying books directly from other students; or just finding the books you need at your campus library.
How do you save money on textbooks? Let us know in the Comment section.