Students have an increasing number of tools that can be used to save money on textbooks. Rentals and online texts are proliferating, and some colleges have gone digital completely. While instructors ideally should have the freedom to choose the best learning material for their students, expenses are always part of the conversation.
Some students actually pay more for books than tuition. The issue comes up during every Regular Session of the Texas Legislature—at least during the last decade. Sometimes bills are introduced to curtail the choices of college faculty in choosing texts. The best way to avoid such measures is to help efforts to keep prices as low as possible.
Below is an excerpt from Chris Manns, managing director of the price-comparison websites CheapestTextbooks.com and TextbookRentals.com. He has been in the business of helping students find the cheapest prices for their textbooks since 2001, according to a press release.
His message is directed toward students. Some suggestions may be worth sharing with them at the beginning of the semester, as some students may be unaware of all the listed strategies.
5 Ways The College Textbook Industry
Gets You To Pay More For Textbooks
(And How To Get Around It)
Luckily there is something you can do about it. You just need to do a little homework before classes start. “There are many ways you can save when buying textbooks that the college textbook industry doesn’t want you to know about,” says Chris Manns of the price comparison websites CheapestTextbooks.com and TextbookRentals.com. Both free services help students locate the cheapest prices for millions of books.
Here’s his list of the ways the college textbook industry gets you to pay more, and some tips for paying less:
• College Specific Books: Colleges have started asking students to buy college specific books. They take a commonly used textbook and have it printed with the college name and course number on the cover. This gives the book a new ISBN (International Standard Book Number) that is typically only available at the college it was made for. The workaround: Ask the professor if it’s OK to use the book’s common version. “The common version will be available online and, in almost all cases, be much cheaper and apart from the cover, it’ll be the exact same. When you rent or buy it online, you’ll be able to rent or buy it used from anybody,” Manns says.
• Book Bundling: Students are sometimes required to buy a “book bundle” with extra class materials that add to the cost. “These bundles often include items the professors aren’t even using,” Manns says. The workaround: Email the professor or wait until the class starts and ask if the professor will be using the supplemental material. “If the answer is no, then buy just the textbook online,” Manns says.
• New Editions: “This problem has been around a long time,” Manns says. Publishers release new versions of books every few years, even though little changes. Usually, buying an older edition gives you the information you need. Older editions often cost less than $25.
• eTextbooks: eTextbooks are usually more expensive than buying a book used or renting it, and they typically expire after six months or a year. The workaround: Shop around. Most eTextbooks are available from multiple sellers. If you have the option, go old-school and buy the hard cover or paperback, which will typically be much cheaper. “That way you can keep it if you want, or you can sell it later,” he says.
• Timing: Sometimes students don’t learn what textbooks they need until a couple of weeks before classes start, giving them little time to shop around.The workaround: Don’t worry too much about getting your books before classes start. If you don’t mind a little inconvenience, then wait until you’re a couple of days into the school year before buying. “The professor might even tell you that you don’t need the book,” Manns says. If it’s required, you can shop online and still have the book within a couple of days.