Thursday, January 5, 2012

Textbooks for Spring Semester

I'm seeing a lot of statuses on Facebook grumbling about textbook prices. It must be that time of year already!

I've already priced out my textbooks for the semester and found some good deals on used books from Amazon and on semester-length rentals from College Book Renter. (I'm waiting for payday before I buy mine, but I have them in my shopping cart already.) Even with reduced prices, it comes out to about $160 for 5 books. Oof. And I know that's really nothing compared to what I paid at the campus bookstore as an undergraduate. Why are textbooks so expensive??

This infographic explains some of the reasons:

Textbook Shakedown

Okay, so say you're stuck with a list of expensive textbooks. How can you get textbooks for less?

First, try for used copies. Maybe the professor taught this course last semester with the same text -- do you know anyone who took it? If you live in a college town, you know a lot of students, and you probably know where they hang out. Can you post a note on a public bulletin board in the anthropology building or nearby coffee shop, or in the campus library? (Side note: maybe your LIBRARIAN knows where you can get used textbooks. You might be able to check them out from the library for a short amount of time (not the whole semester) or review them in the library before exams.) And there's good ol' Craigslist -- pick up books in person and pay cash.

You probably won't find a lot of cheap textbooks online, but you can see how much the price difference is at a site like Amazon that sells used books. Sometimes the textbooks are offered by companies that buy bulk batches, or buy back from students; sometimes a book is offered directly by the student -- I've done that myself. With Amazon, you have a certain level of purchasing security that you might not have on Craigslist, and there's a much wider selection! If you see a good deal, especially if it's for a book you'll need to consult over and over again (the APA style guide, for example), scoop it up. After you're done with the course, you can either hang onto it or sell your book or trade it back in for Amazon credit. You probably won't make back the full amount you spent, but you're likely to recoup most of the cost if your copy is in good condition and it's still the most recent edition. Trying to sell a couple years down the line when a new edition has been published won't get you much -- so act quickly!

If you only need the textbook for one course, or it's a particularly expensive one, you might do best to rent it instead of buying it outright. offers rental periods of 60, 90, or 130 days -- so whether you need to use your book for a full semester and study for finals, or just for one section of the class, you have pro-rated options. When you're done, just put it back in the box it arrived in, print the shipping label, and mail it back to CBR. You also have the option to extend your rental period, just by going online before the due date. And if you choose to keep the book, you just pay the difference in price -- it's pretty steep, but not unreasonable for a used copy. That's how they keep people from walking off with "rental" books. Staff also inspect the books when they are returned. If you damage the book beyond the point that it's considered rentable, you'll be charged full price as well -- but you don't get the book back! So if you spill water on your copy of Information Management for the Digital Age, you might be better hanging onto it, reporting it as damaged to CBR and paying up, then taking the book to Amazon and listing it as used and damaged -- if some other student doesn't care about a few wrinkled pages, you could get a chunk of change back instead of losing the money entirely.

If you're buying your textbooks for Spring semester now, or looking to sell some to those who are, be aware that College Book Renter has some special promotions through the end of January.

-If you sell your books on CBR, you get an entry form to submit in a drawing. The grand prize is up to $10,000 for a year's worth of tuition! (My mouth waters thinking about how much less I'd need to save in my grad school fund.)

-Submit an article to the CBR blog, and if you're chosen as a guest blogger, you get entered to win a CBR scholarship for your textbooks.

-Three winners will be chosen in the Golden Ticket Giveaway to have their order paid for by CBR. This is a bit of a gamble -- you have to place your order at, and you'll only be notified AFTER CHECKOUT if you've won. But since there are good deals at CBR (cheaper than buying a new textbook!), you might want to do that anyway... and you have the exciting possibility of winning!

-Even if you're not selected for one of these prizes, everyone's a winner -- CBR offers FREE SHIPPING on used textbooks and textbook rentals ordered before January 31st. And here's a link to some coupon codes for College Book Renter... I can't guarantee that they'll work, but it's worth a try! 5% off, or $5 off -- so whether you've got a big order or just need one book, it should help. So you might want to get on that.


  1. Luckily, I think I’m going to get away with only having to buy two of the six books required for my current eight week course. The book we seem to be using more frequently would have run me $110 (plus tax, S&H). Thankfully, the book is also offered as an e-book on our campus’ online library. I’m finding bits and pieces (previews) of the second book online on Google Books and Barnes & Noble’s. I think I’ll be able to read enough of it to draw conclusions and write responses. I searched the local library for the remaining two books and, while my county didn’t have them in circulation, the next county over did. I’m pretty satisfied at only having to chuck out $33 for books this semester. (^_^)

  2. Nice job! How long do you get to keep the library books? Most libraries have restrictions on how many times you can renew a loan. Maybe textbooks are different?

  3. The books from the library aren't textbooks in the usually sense. Well, one of them (INFLUENCE: Science and Practice)is probably text-booky, but the one was more like a personal narrative. I get to check them out for three weeks at a time. Luckily no one else wanted to read these books so I just renewed them yesterday for an additional three weeks.


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