10 Ways to Save Money on College Textbooks

College bookstores and publishers have been making a fortune off of students for years, and before the days of the Internet, students were largely at their mercy.  These days, though, with a little legwork, students can find ways to save money on textbooks.  Here are some tips to help you work the system.

  1. Buy your books used at an online store.  Check out sites like Amazon.com and Half.com that have a selection of used books.  The trick is this: buy your books between the middle and the end of the semester, when demand is low, so you can get the best prices.  This requires you to find out what books you will need ahead of time, which is easy enough.  Just ask the professor or the department secretary.
  2. Sell your used books on an online store. Selling books back to a college bookstore rarely gets you top dollar. Instead, sell your books at Amazon.com or other online store.  This is really easy to do and does not require much technical knowledge, and yes, you get reimbursed for your postage as part of the transaction.  The trick is to sell the books online at the beginning of the semester or slightly before, because this is when demand is high.  To get the maximum price, keep your books in good condition and don’t mark up the pages.
  3. Check out Textbook Revolt.  This new online book sharing service allows students to trade books with other students for free.  You list the books you’re getting rid of, and take the books you need. 
  4. Project Gutenberg. Need a classic work of literature for a class?  You can copy many of these from Project Gutenberg for free.
  5. Open Source Textbook Websites. Here’s a growing trend: publishers and professors are partnering with websites such as Freeload Press to make textbooks available for free.  Some professors are choosing to use these textbooks for their classes to save students money.
  6. Buy from other students. Students have been using this trick to subvert the college bookstores for years.  Check out bulletin boards on campus and online to find students who are selling their old textbooks, and sell your old ones.
  7. The library. This low-tech choice might be your solution.  The problem, of course, is that your college library will only have a few copies of the book, so if you take it out, it will probably be recalled by another student.  You can get around this by borrowing the book from a city library instead.
  8. Use the last edition. Here’s the game:  every few years, publishers slightly modify textbooks so that students can no longer buy used copies.  However, if the book has only been modified slightly, you might be able to use it anyways, and you’ll be able to buy the old edition for dirt cheap.  Professors sometimes even encourage this behavior.  Be careful though.  Look at both editions of the book and make sure it hasn’t been changed much, because if it has, you might need a new one.
  9. Share.  Does everyone really need their own book?  Consider buying a copy with a friend, sharing the price, and then sharing the money you get when you sell the book.
  10. Books on reserve.  Professors often put a textbook on reserve at the library for students to borrow for a period of hours.  This is not the best way to go, as you’ll have limited access to the textbook, but if you only need the book occasionally, this might do the trick.

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