Aubra Whitten

Saving money on textbooks (or how to beat the bookstore)

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Confession: It’s day two of the spring semester here at Mississippi State and I’m already irritated. Why? TEXTBOOKS ARE WAY TOO EXPENSIVE.

Grumbling about the cost of four small books for my ethics class, I ran into two friends at our bookstore. Their professor sent them to the bookstore for a “textbook:” photocopied pages contained in a five star ring notebook. The price? EIGHTY DOLLARS. Really? The professor had even been crafty enough to throw in a couple of colored photocopied sheets so she would know if the students copied the book from each other. 

Here’s what Barnes and Noble (our authorized campus bookstore) estimates for my spring semester. Keep in mind, I’m taking five classes with a combined total of eight books:

Used: $406.80 (average price: $50.85 per book)

New: $542.40 (average price: $67.80 per book)

That’s absolutely TERRIBLE. I’m a communication major, so I can only imagine what it is for engineering majors, especially with all the custom-edition books out there. (Custom-edition is code for really expensive books written by a professor at your university. These books cannot be resold, even at the authorized campus bookstore.) Granted, the authorized campus bookstore is never where you want to go buy your books, but it gives you an estimate as to what most college students are currently facing these days. Let’s face it – most of us don’t have that kind of money for textbooks. If I bought all those required books, I would be spending all the money I made over Christmas break, which is supposed to cover my food, gas, Internet, and part of rent for the rest of the semester. Not happening.

Here are my suggestions and alternatives for students:

1. Go around and start begging for books. Put in your Facebook status (“I need books for sociology, nutrition, and geography”, etc.), tell your friends, ask your teachers, etc.

2. Don’t really need to buy the book? Your school library (or an area library) may have it. (I just reserved my sociology book for a couple of weeks until the copy I bought comes in the mail.) If they don’t have it, ask about an interlibrary loan.

3. Try the off campus bookstores in your area. Let’s face it: the authorized campus bookstore is getting kickbacks (in some form or fashion) to charge you an arm and a leg for overpriced textbooks. Fight the system and visit your local stores to compare prices.

4. After visiting the bookstores (and obtaining the ISBN numbers, authors, and edition numbers), venture online to see what other students are selling their used books for. My personal favorite sites are Half, Amazon, and AbeBooks. By the way, if the campus bookstore won’t your books back, try selling them online (I just listed two of mine today).

5. Still not happy? Trying renting your textbooks online. It sounds crazy, but it works and saves money. The site I’ve used is Chegg, but I almost used BookRenter this semester because it temporarily beat one Chegg’s prices. The great thing about Chegg is the company plants a tree for every book you rent – pretty neat. They even send you an e-mail letting you know where your tree(s) were planted. They have excellent customer service and both web sites do a great job explaining how things work.

6. Bought a ton of books last semester and the school bookstore won’t take them back? Don’t worry, there are lots of students still looking for those books. Put them online using Half or Amazon. I use Half and it’s really easy. If you’re trying to sell custom editions (books specifically for your university), try advertising them using the Marketplace on Facebook and search Facebook for groups that resell/list books.

Let me know what you’re doing to save money on books this semester (or what you’ve done in the past).


Written by aubrawhitten

January 8, 2009 at 10:48 pm