General Question

Fly's avatar

Can you recommend your favorite sites for purchasing college textbooks?

Asked by Fly (8675 points ) August 6th, 2012

I just found out what books I need for my first semester classes, so I’m going through the process of finding the best deals. I would rather not rent books as I would like to have the option to write/highlight in them, and it seems that renting is almost as expensive as just buying the books in many cases. New is obviously ideal, but I’m certainly open to used books that are in good condition if the price difference is significant.

Do you have any favorite sites where you bought or currently buy your books? Any other advice on the topic is also greatly appreciated.

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17 Answers

jordym84's avatar

Half has always been a favorite of mine.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I have always used Amazon.com and Half.com. Even if you buy new, Amazon will typically save you some money. I saved 70% once because my professor refused to order the paperback version of a text for the bookstore, but I was able to get it from Amazon. Just be careful about ordering different editions. Sometimes it doesn’t matter, sometimes it does. And unfortunately, professors aren’t always very helpful in determining wether or not it matters.

Also: good instincts with regard to renting. I’ve had students rent, and they always end up complaining about it.

Mariah's avatar

Half and Amazon. Never the college bookstore, you will get very ripped off. And definitely be open to used books because the price difference usually is quite significant. I’ve never bought a book used and then been bothered by the condition it was in.

Search for your books using the ISBN rather than the title to make sure you get the right edition. And pay attention to things like if there’s a CD-rom included, because the professor might want you to have the disc and some used books won’t contain it (sellers usually disclose one way or the other).

I’m trying renting for the first time this term, I’ll let you know what I think of it. I couldn’t find a couple of my books for anything less than $150, which was just too much. Especially considering I had asked around and people said they didn’t use the textbooks very much for the particular class. I found them both for rent for under $50. Return shipping is free when I’m finished. Now, I have a bit of an advantage as my school is on a quarter system, so I don’t have to rent for as long, which means it’s cheaper.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Speaking of the college bookstore, check to see if it sells used versions of books. Sometimes the used price is comparable to online used prices, and the bookstore has the advantage that you can see exactly how used the copy you are purchasing is before paying for it. Consider also which books you are likely to keep and which one’s you are going to read and resell. I kept a lot of my books because I liked most of my classes, but I got rid of the ones that I would never look at again. My meteorology professor was awesome, for instance, and I really liked his class. But I can’t pretend that my personal interest in meteorology extends much beyond whether or not it’s going to rain today.

Fly's avatar

Thanks for the advice, @all!
I do have one question: About how much did/do any of you spend on books for one semester? I’m finding my total to be over $400. Is that normal for just one semester?

phaedryx's avatar

@Fly When I was in college I would go to the college bookstore and write down ISBN and price of all of the books I needed. Then I’d check an online price aggregator like this and a local student book exchange website (buy/sell books with other students). I usually saved quite a bit over the bookstore, but it was still really expensive.

Sadly, I think $400/semester isn’t unexpected, depending on major.

bolwerk's avatar

The best site is the one with the best price on a given book. To add to other people’s perfectly good answers, I suggest comparisons on Google Shop or other aggregators like the one @phaedryx suggested.

Other advice: international editions can be helluva cheaper. Usually they’re the same content, sometimes there are minor differences. Generally the only lose is you get black and white print instead of useless glossy color pages and the cover is different. I found with economics books sometimes the currency symbols were different, but the problems were the same – really, no big deal. I heard in some cases the content is the same, but the problems were different, but that was rare. AbeBooks is a good source for international books. Ask your prof if you’re worried about whether the international edition would be a problem.

Finally, ebooks aren’t bad sometimes either. I sometimes found ebooks in my library and printed them as PDFs. There were restrictions on how many pages could be printed, but they could be circumvented by just closing my web browser and reopening it.

Fly's avatar

@bolwerk International editions are actually illegal to buy and sell, and since I’m planning on reselling most of my books, it wouldn’t make sense for me to go that route. The ones that I’ve seen while looking for books have had a miniscule price difference, anyway.

I ended up deciding to rent one book that was $120 because it was half the price of buying it. It’s a biology book, so I have no intentions of keeping it anyway. There was also a $210 “bundle” I was supposed to buy, but I found out what was in the bundle (not easy) and bought them all separately and saved about $80.

I split it up between half.com, chegg.com, my university bookstore (for basic novels that were the same price everywhere), and specific sites where I had to buy the bundle components from. Spent about $450 total. I knew they were expensive, but I wasn’t anticipating that it would be quite that much for one semester.

bolwerk's avatar

@Fly: if you’re in the USA, there is nothing illegal about buying, selling, or owning international editions. So far as I know, no textbook companies even try to license them in a way to prevent that, but even if they did it would be unenforceable in the USA to do such a thing with a book. And, hell, if an international edition is an option, it’s a good one; the price can be less than the markdown between buying and selling a U.S. edition.

The only thing I suggested that could be illegal (though still perfectly justified) is making your own ebook PDF in the library.

Fly's avatar

@bolwerk I stand corrected that it is illegal to buy them, but they are certainly illegal to sell. It may not be well-enforced, but I would personally rather not get involved with that if the benefits aren’t that great. I can understand the appeal if I had found any books that were significantly cheaper as international versions, but only a few of my books were available as international additions at all, and the ones that were available were not more than ~$20 cheaper (including on the site that you suggested). It’s a good discount, but not a big enough one for me to justify it, personally. I do appreciate the suggestion, though.

geeky_mama's avatar

@Fly – you’ve gotten some wonderful advice already – so I’ll only add this..

I graduated from University back in 1993 and my books were more than $400 a semester even back then. (Yep, nearly 20 years ago, and for a B.A. at a State School…not even Medical School or Engineering texts..which I hear are quite a bit more expensive yet.)

So, if you’re finding your textbooks for $400 or less in the year 2012 – I think you’re doing a phenomenal job sourcing them from inexpensive websites.

bolwerk's avatar

@Fly: nothing can prevent you from selling a book you legally own in a secondary market.

But it’s just something to check, anyway. I have been out of school for a while, but I sometimes got ~$180 books for ~$30 by going with the international edition. Maybe worked ⅓ of the time.

Bellatrix's avatar

@Fly, I always check out any book purchase using this website www.booko.com.au. While it is an Australian website it checks out the cheapest place to purchase books online globally and tells me the postage to Australia. Usually there is a free postage option. I think it would still be useful for you even though you are in the US. You will be able to see where the cheapest seller is anyway.

$400 is not unusual. In some fields that would be a cheap semester.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Fly Yes, $400 seems about standard for your first semester. Whether it goes up or down will depend on your major.

@bolwerk The problem is that it’s illegal to sell international editions to people in the US or Canada in the first place due to international copyright law agreements, and it remains illegal to resell them if you’ve obtained them (since the original sale was illegal, even if the buying was not illegal). We can agree that it’s a stupid law, but the law is what it is.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

I bought used on discounts by friends who took the classes, buying online is best next to used in the univ. Bookstore. You’ve got great answers here, the price depends on courseload and major.

Fly's avatar

Thanks, @Bellatrix, I will definitely look into that. I tried using Google Shopping and my school’s bookstore for price comparison, but both left out plenty of major sites.

Also, that was supposed to be “editions,” not “additions.”

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