Colleges Are Now Required To List Textbooks During Class Registration

Finding the best textbooks prices just got a whole lot easier now that colleges are required to provide students with a list of required textbooks when they register for classes. The requirement was mandated back in the 2008 as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, but only took effect this year.

Proponents say the law will give students more time to take advantage of textbook buy-back programs, book rentals and prices that are often lower online than in college bookstores. They expect it will also force professors to pay more attention to the cost of books they assign.

“Until this year, many schools didn’t give the book list until the week before classes, and you really had no choice but to head to the college bookstore,” says Christine Frietchen, editor in chief of

The best way to find cheap books is to start hunting early. You’re not a unique snowflake, and there are plenty of other students scrounging for the deal you want. If you can resist the urge to highlight and doodle, consider a textbook rental service like Chegg. For everyone else, comparison shop just like you would for any other product. Grab your textbook’s ISBN and plug it into traditional sites like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and AbeBooks. Then, look for a better price through services like Half and CheapestTextBook. If you decide to buy used, carefully read both the product’s description and the seller’s reviews. Once you find a reasonable price, grab it before it disappears.

College students may get break on textbook expenses [USA Today]
20 U.S.C. § 1015b [U.S. Code]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Cantras says:

    I remember a professor warning us that they’d probably be getting a new edition of the book soon — so don’t buy it if you can share it.

    Also remember a $100+ Astronomy textbook becoming worthless on account of Pluto. :(

    My brother, though, was some sort of Super Special Honor Student who could actually check books out of the library for a semester at a time. He very rarely bought books. Cheater. >.>

    • Owl Says South says:

      Hey, blaming Pluto isn’t fair. it hasn’t changed it’s status. a bunch of uppity anoying, stupid, “scientists” who wanted to change something are to blame.

      8 planets my ass.

      • mac-phisto says:

        “mary’s violet eyes make john stay up nights” sounds just as good to me. besides, i always found that dog to be one of the more annoying disney characters.

      • jefeloco says:

        I think the number of known exo-planets is quickly catching up to full status planets. Afterall, Pluto isn’t going to last much longer once we crack the ice and uncover the mass relay underneath.

  2. BDSanta2001 says:

    I like this. I’ve walked into too many classes on the first day, with the text required only to discover the professor has their own 90% complete manual that they want to try out on the guinea pigs in their classes.

    • frak says:

      My degree was in CS and that’s spot on for about half my classes.

    • MMD says:

      What’s wrong with that? It means that the professor has either created or selected exactly what you need for the class rather than making you buy a text that he/she might only use part of.

      • Marshmelly says:

        Whats wrong with it is that they had already bought the required text (perhaps because the professor didn’t tell them ahead of time)…therefore a big waste of money.

  3. MathIsWrong says: compares Abebooks, Chegg, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Half and a ton more verified sellers, to find the best combination of prices for all of your books, including shipping and affinity programs (like Amazon Prime). Always, Always, Always check Bigwords.

    • Herbz says:

      Thanks for the tip :P

      Always looking for better ways to search for textbooks.

    • RobThy says:

      Love BigWords, just used them lastnight to locate who had the books I needed the cheapest. Their prices are not always 100% accurate but pretty close even when its off.

      Also if renting or purchasing new pay attention to if the book should come with a CD and or a online code. Codes run normally $30-$40 if purchased separately so sometimes it can be better purchasing new from a place then renting.

  4. Trance says:

    I hope they mentioned on the list which books are “optional.” I had history and poli-sci profs who would have 2 page book lists, but the only required readings were the first 1-2 books.

  5. goodfellow_puck says:

    Keep in mind that though textbooks may have multiple editions, that they very rarely change the content. I always bought the edition just before the one the teacher requested and never had a problem. Sometimes it meant the difference between paying $80 used, and $1!! The only issue that ever came up was some chapters being switched, but you should know the chapter title/content you’re working on and there is a index page to help you keep on track.

    Also, see if the books are available at your school library. Both colleges I went to required all textbooks to be available in the reference section of the school library. I could check out the book for 2 hrs in the library in-between or after classes, do my homework or reading, and be done. My junior and senior years I didn’t buy a single textbook. All of my professors that wanted books for read-alongs actually lectured on the exact info in the book, making the books useless anyway. If they question you not having a book, explain that you are poor and can’t afford it–they’re always sympathetic. I even had one prof who made photocopies for me instead.

    • What happened to all the bad Kung Fu Movies? says:

      I would ask the teacher first. It’s so easy to contact them these days especially if they have email. I had a professor who would purposely use material only found in the new edition. What a prick.

    • teh says:

      Yes, most professors know that textbooks are expensive and are sympathetic. Whenever I teach I always make sure that the library has multiple copies of the textbook on reserve.

      I do recommend buying textbooks for your “in major” classes as they can be a valuable reference. That said, the edition usually doesn’t matter — sometimes the only change between editions is a re-ordering of the problem numbers.

    • sleze69 says:

      You can also look into buying the Indian version of books. Several of my professors wrote their own text books and they complained that in order to be competitive in India, they had to release the books at INCREDIBLY lower prices – like $10 vs $100.

  6. kross10c says:

    i had many dorm mates that did not have a book the first few weeks of class because the campus book store ran out. This would have been a big help for them.
    full price of the class including materials should be known up front.

    • ludwigk says:

      I took summer classes just this last season, and our campus bookstore didn’t even carry the texts for either class. Bought one off of amazon, and the other from

  7. Mike says:

    Man, this could have saved my wife and I thousands in book costs. We have six degrees between the two of us, I get a tear in my eye just thinking about how much we must have spent on books.

    But the real question is- When are we going to be able to buy all text books in electronic format? This would totally justify the price of a kindle or nook, not to mention saving paper and weight you have to haul around.

    • Big Cheese Make Hair Go Boom says:

      That is a great point to bring up. Colleges are filled to the brim with liberal tree hugging folk. It is surprising that that there has not been a huge outcry from the staff to transition from killing off the rain forest to eReaders.

      ohhh…wait…even the most “liberal” are capitalists at heart. Look, we all know that campus bookstores make buckets of money for the college. Why give up the cash cow?

    • sonneillon says:

      In my masters program most of they books they have they offer a digital version.

    • ParanoidGeek says:

      They’ve got that now for many science and technical books (at least). However, the price is usually 50% of list price for 6months of access. Amazon is usually 65% and you actually have a book at the end of the class.

      Also, I’ve not seen any e-textbooks that don’t come heavily bundled with DRM and would be able to be installed on a typical e-reader. Most will let you access it via the web, but that’s not quite the same as having it with you.

    • TVGenius says:

      There are more and more eBooks, the problem is that it’s the same crooks at the publishers and the bookstores that will be screwing you on them. B&N’s college bookstore rental seems to have decent prices. I did Chegg for my math book in the spring, bought used from a co-worker’s girlfriend for my summer class, but B&N’s rental was the cheapest for my computer class this fall. Still waiting on my other text. Had ordered through B&, they even sent me an estimated ship date, then that day I got a cancellation and will have to pay more at the B&N bookstore on our campus, since it’s the only place I can find it.

    • kmw2 says:

      You can buy most textbooks in electronic format these days. Of course, they’re absolutely loaded up with DRM, require specialized e-readers that only work (often badly) with a specific operating system, often expire after six months, and are useless if you’re the sort that likes to mark pages, take notes, and so on, plus they’re 75% or more of the cost of the print version. Me, I’ll take a book, thanks.

  8. coren says:

    Someone else mentioned bigwords. Yes, yes, yes.

    Also, you’d be amazed at what you can do with a good interlibrary loan system – especially if they’re letting you know in advance. Have not paid for textbooks in years due to this. And when I do, I can turn a profit.

    • ParanoidGeek says:

      You can also encourage your instructor to put a copy on reserve in the library. I’ve had good luck getting the library to even purchase a copy to put on reserve if they didn’t already have one.

  9. Big Cheese Make Hair Go Boom says:

    I hate how college bookstores shrink wrap paired books together or shrink wrap the book with a piece of card stock on the back in such a way that you can not see the ISBN number. So freaking shady.

  10. Awesome McAwesomeness says:

    What I really hate is when professors list 5 books as being mandatory and then you only end up using 2 of them. Ugh.

    • Span_Wolf says:

      Yeah I would practically foam at the mouth when I’d spend hundreds on books for a single class and then end up with several still in shrink wrap at the end of the semester.

    • elangomatt says:

      Worse yet for me, I had a history class recently that only required one book and the prof didn’t even end up using that book even. All of the class material was in lectures. If you didn’t go to class every single time, you had to be sure to know someone in the class you could depend on for decent notes.

    • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

      I keep getting into situations where the department requires a text that the profs won’t touch with a ten foot pole, but they insist you buy it at the beginning of class (because the school bullies them into doing so), and only admit well after the end of the buyback period that they’re never going to use the book.

      One department at Kennesaw State in Georgia forces students to buy a high-gloss workbook compiled by a member of the department, and professors are supposedly penalized if they don’t specifically require students to tear pages out of the book at least once during the semester — rendering it unsalable. Unethical AND environmentally unsound, hooray! (Also, the workbook is vanity published and the professor lists it as a publication. I hope most people notice, rendering her corrupt ass less employable rather than more.)

      I’ve even had one history prof who ran two separate curricula — he’d do quizzes against his lectures, and tests against the completely unrelated textbook readings. He claimed the state required him to use a book he didn’t like. He was batshit, though, though, so I doubt that’s a very accurate explanation.

    • HillSA23 says:

      I’m concerned that you may have missed the point of your education. =P

      That your professor only mentioned 3 of the 5 books in class doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be breaking into those other two on your own initiative. Only referring to the 3 “required” texts sounds a lot like you’re just in that class for the grade (as we’re reading the bare minimum) … but that isn’t true, correct?

      • burnedout says:

        Yeah, I like sticking questions from the other two books on the exams – just to see who’s actually doing the work.

      • ohhhh says:

        On more than one occasion professors put a book on the list because they are made to and readily admit they will never use it during the semester.

      • Rectilinear Propagation says:

        You’re the one missing the point.

        If students want to do additional reading for their classes they know where the bookstores and libraries are at and no one is complaining about teachers listing optional books.

        The complaint is when the teacher lists extra books as mandatory when you don’t actually need them. They may be useful, they may be interesting, but if you don’t need the information in them to pass the class then no, they shouldn’t be listed as mandatory. That is deceitful on the part of the teacher.

        Not all of us go to college with an overabundance of money and free time like you apparently did.

  11. sonneillon says:

    Buy a previous version of the book if it is a class that is not likely to change. Like calculus. Some stuff where it is constantly changing this is a bad idea.

    I have done this with 15 classes and I have yet to have a problem with it. Some things are out of order but all the same information is there. And for those 15 classes I paid about 6 bucks a pop for the books on amazon. with shipping it was about 12 bucks a book.

    • jebarringer says:

      Though for maths classes, sometimes the in-book exercises change order or change completely, so if you purchase an old edition, make sure you’re not gonna get screwed on the homework.

      • sonneillon says:

        True. I double checked with a person in class or the teacher when problems are handed out and I have had to make a couple changes in a couple classes, but in most cases the authors who put out the additional versions are lazy and do not change a thing.

        • Entchen says:

          I’m really annoyed with the new edition of a text that I have used for several semesters. It’s for a fast-changing topic, but almost nothing in the new book has changed, just a (very few) sentences here and there.

  12. ParanoidGeek says:

    While I think the idea behind this makes sense, it is just going to lead to more inaccurate book lists in my opinion. Registration for Fall classes often takes place in the middle of the Spring semester — 4+ months before many faculty get actual course material together for new/revised courses (about a month before the semester). Sure, for something fairly constant like Calc it’ll be straightforward (same book, most recent edition). But if the instructor is updating the course (which I tend to think is a good thing), and you force them to give you a list of books, then you’ll just get a list of titles that they might use, but haven’t decided on.

    Of course I expect to see 20 U.S.C. § 1015b (d) (1) (B) exercised quite a bit as I’m sure that even federal law will have little impact on the habits of college professors.

    • elangomatt says:

      That is what I was thinking too. I think it would be better if the law required the book list to be available 1 month before classes begin or something.

    • burnedout says:

      Heck, some professors aren’t even ASSIGNED to classes that early. I’ve been added to a class one week before it started…

  13. elangomatt says:

    My college’s bookstore has had a paper copy of the book list that contains all of the ISBN numbers for a while now. Last semester, I got my anthropology book online at for $16 used, compared to over $80 for a used book in the bookstore. Being on staff at the college, I was talking to the bookstore manager a few weeks ago and I told her I wasn’t going to sell my book back since I didn’t buy it from the bookstore. She actually encouraged me to sell it back even though she knew I didn’t buy it from the bookstore. I ended up getting $66 from the bookstore after I only paid $16 online.

    • barty says:

      My college’s bookstore would also buy back books regardless of source. I bought numerous books off of for $20-30 (or less sometimes!) and sold them back for $40-50 if it was early enough in the buyback week.

      The same school also had its own internal policy to list the required books for a class at LEAST 2 weeks before the start of the semester, though in many classes where the profs didn’t change books often they’d sometimes be there 5-6 weeks ahead of time! There were some exceptions, usually for the course packs some professors required, but for probably 99% of my classes I usually had enough time to buy my books less expensively elsewhere. One of the profs even made copies (probably illegal as hell, I don’t think he cared) of questions that were missing out of some older editions just so we wouldn’t be forced to buy the new edition that had the same basic course content.

  14. Hoot says:

    I often wrote to my new professors asking for a book list when I registered for the following semester. They were usually happy to oblige, as most had taught the class many times and followed the same curriculum.

    And I have to agree, I HATE professors who list 8 books as required and they use two. What assholes. This happened in one of my classes last semester. Granted, the professor was complete garbage. But I seriously wanted to ask him for the $100 damn refund. ASS!

  15. crazydavythe1st says:

    It’s too bad that most professors don’t care about textbook costs. The most extreme example is an electromagnetics professor that got angry that I was using the prior edition of the textbook (6th edition instead of 7th). I hadn’t even ever talked to him or asked him for help, so there was no reason that it should have been an issue. It’s not like the subject has changed much in the last five years – or the last fifty years. The 6th edition of the textbook used was $0.01 at Amazon plus $3.99 shipping. The 7th edition used was something like $70 plus $3.99 shipping. This kind of stuff gets even more ridiculous in subjects like calculus or algebra. The only reason new editions come out for those subjects is to make money. Virtually nothing has changed in those subjects at the introductory level in a hundred years.

    There’s other examples too. A British lit professor had us buy four different textbooks, in which we only read one or two stories out of each. Conceivably, you could have gotten around buying them since all of the works were public domain except for one, but this guy let you refer to those texts during exams (the exams were too fast paced for this to be a useful way to get around reading).

    I’m really surprised that Consumerist is recommending textbook rental. The only people this really works for is people that never take notes in their book, will never need to keep their book, and for whatever reason doesn’t want to put forth any effort to sale their book back at the end of the semester. You’re best option if you’re going to keep the book in excellent condition is to buy it used in “Like new” condition and resale it later in “Like new” condition. You’ll probably recover 80-90% of what you paid for the book, if only because of selling fees on Amazon or Ebay.

    • NuclearChaos says:

      Back when I was in college, I remember learning that many professors have such large books lists because the university provides gratis copies to the professor. Specifically, there was a professor who taught the science of Star Wars, or some such, and a put a $100 book on the list purely so he could get it for free. At least that was what I was told.

    • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

      Rental is an option we should be aware of. Yes, lots of folks keep texts from fundamental classes such as calculus, and from our majors. But there are also plenty of times when you know you won’t keep the book.

      My last school required a course in a filthy pseudoscience that shall remain nameless. The text covered a topic I was not interested in, and actually did a worse job of presenting said topic than I could have imagined. I was first in line to get rid of the thing at the end of the semester, and couldn’t get rid of it because a new edition was coming out. I couldn’t get the online places to take it either. So I’m stuck with a book I could easily have told you I wouldn’t mark up and wouldn’t want to keep.

      • crazydavythe1st says:

        I’m only arguing that if you’re willing to buy the textbook and resell it yourself, you usually come out ahead. The book rental sites I’ve seen are priced only $10 or so less than buying a used book, and then they charge you in many cases if you damage the book. It seems to me that it is only useful for a very limited set of people. Also at the school I go to, most students end up failing at least one class at some point (of course, an extremely good student might not worry about this) and you never really know when that might happen. It just seems like a risky way to go, although I suppose some students could do well by it.

        • babyruthless says:

          The only real risk in buying a used book with the plan of reselling it is that a new edition comes out. In that case, you’d have been better off renting it.

          An iron law of book edition changes: 3 years. Slightly longer in biology because those students are more likely to hold onto their texts to study for the MCATs.

    • ninabi says:

      My daughter was saying the engineering and math texts weren’t changing much from one edition to the other- with one small difference. They scrambled up the order of the homework problems or added/deleted a few problems so when work (“Do problems 1-6 and 10-14”) was assigned, those with the older editions would get screwed if they didn’t check with a classmate to see what the actual problems were.

    • Primarylupine says:

      I still have, and use, an electronics textbook from 1965. Yes, not many things use vacuum tubes anymore, but the basics of electronics hasn’t changed. That, and it’s awesome to show kids what used to go into building an FM receiver that now fits into a single chip in their iPod.

    • kethryvis says:

      i dunno where you went to school, but in my entire college career thus far (AA, BA, MA, spanning almost 10 years at this point and four schools) I’ve only had one prof who didn’t care about textbook cost (his least expensive book was $80 and there were four books on the list. I dropped that class faster than a hot potato) and had very few other problems otherwise. The majority of them made sure that the books they were using were affordable, utilizing bookstores that weren’t the one on campus to keep costs down, etc. i took one class that was on contemporary works in our field, which meant none of them were available used. He apologized profusely for it and encouraged us to share books if we could.

      I had a few other crazy ones here and there, it wasn’t all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. But I had more considerate profs than inconsiderate ones in my academic career.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      The only people this really works for is people that never take notes in their book, will never need to keep their book, and for whatever reason doesn’t want to put forth any effort to sale their book back at the end of the semester.

      Yeah, that’s probably a lot of people.

      1) Many people don’t like marking up their books just for note-taking purposes.
      2) “Never need to keep their book” applies to every required class that’s not in your major
      3) If selling the book is a PITA then yeah.

  16. Mackinstyle1 says:

    This is just the way things have always been in Canada. I’m shocked it takes an act of Congress to make happen. My University has a site that updates what books are listed for each class about a month before registration opens. And even then, you can just drop the course and pick up a new one if you please.

    But to be honest, with the Internet and Wikipedia (if you’re a power-Googler) I haven’t had to buy most textbooks in the last 4 years. Consider waiting and evaluating the first week or two of a course before buying texts.

  17. mbz32190 says:

    It’s a good step, but does really nothing when publishers come up with a new textbook. (Or the new trend, bundling access codes and other “study aids” that are required for the class, but only come with the purchase of a new book). It’s a complete money-making sham between the publisher, college, the bookstore, and in some cases, the professor. I bought an international version of an Accounting book online…$40 bucks shipped. The same book, used, U.S. ed., would have been around $200! The only difference was the U.S. version had a hardcover. Some books I was forced to buy through the bookstore, but have almost zero trade-in value when the time the semester is over. I can only hope someone else in the country needs it and try to pawn it off on Just part of the whole giant scam that higher “education” has become.

  18. INsano says:

    Hallefuckinglujah! Bookstores had higher margins than drug dealers…and they got to re-buy their drugs and then resell them for 95% of their first sale price. It was one thing if you were rich in college, but a lot of us weren’t and hated that we couldn’t order online for lack of time. Book sharing didn’t work after 101 classes either.

    Bastard college bookstores. Little Napoleonic emperors, enjoy your exile!

  19. psm321 says:

    My department at the school I went to has been doing this since at least my sophomore or junior year of undergrad… very helpful for shopping ahead. I also generally had success e-mailing professors before the semester started, or just calling the bookstores to ask what books I needed for a particular class. Nice to see that everyone will have the lists available now.

  20. Chris J. Stone says:

    Sometimes, though, you still don’t know until you see how the professor will teach the class. I’ve had professors admit that, though they say that the books listed as required are really helpful, they’ll get in trouble if they DON’T list at least one book as required, and then say in class that they’ll be helpful for the class.

    • Entchen says:

      Exactly. There are at least a couple of courses that I teach that would be perfectly fine – if not better – without a textbook. Sometimes school policy is that at least one text must be listed as required. And then I try to draw from the text during lecture so that students don’t feel completely cheated, when maybe we’d have been better off using that time reading and discussing the latest journal articles on the topic instead.

  21. Coles_Law says:

    Renting isn’t always a great choice-in particular, engineering books are (usually) good references to keep around. Even so, I’ve got a couple I have no use for.

    • TVGenius says:

      Yeah, some I know I’ll keep, but some I’m more than happy to see GTFO after the semester ends.

  22. huadpe says:

    The Firefox addon “invisiblehand” does price comparisons automatically when you visit most shopping sites, so it would be good for this (as well as most other buying).

  23. dreamfish says:

    There should some guidelines that universities are encouraged to follow:

    – no recommendations for books more than $75
    – no recommendations for books written by those giving the course (always thought this was dodgy)
    – recommended text books shouldn’t change more frequently than every four years

    It would be good if student groups and/or others were to encourage colleges to follow these voluntarily – the ethical stance would be a good way to encourage people to apply there.

    • BadgerPudding says:

      – no recommendations for books more than $75

      Content and usefulness should take precedent. I wouldn’t want a cheap, but useless book forced upon students and professors to meet your arbitrary $75 rule.

      – no recommendations for books written by those giving the course (always thought this was dodgy)

      I don’t think you could ask for a better situation than being taught the material directly from the source.

      – recommended text books shouldn’t change more frequently than every four years

      Sciences change rapidly. In two years, your textbook could be dated. Don’t cut corners to get a less-than cutting edge education. Compared to tuition costs, text books are next to nothing.

      • Caveat says:

        1. Cheap does not mean useless. Expensive often just means big type and lots of color pictures. Nowadays you can look up pictures on the internet. Just look at our fancy high school textbooks and then look at how American students rate academically around the world.
        2. I have had professors using their own books and it’s the worst situation. They just focus on whatever interests them and often leave out material which is required for the next advanced course. The best situation is when a professor uses a book written by several authors.
        3. Four years is a good rule of thumb. If it is a study of Shakespeare a 200 year old book might be just as useful as a current edition. For advanced science and medicine most books are outdated by the time they are written and published. For those fast moving subjects the professors should supplement the readings by peer reviewed journals which are easily accessed on line through university libraries. Come to think of it, printed books should be eliminated. Many of the current books can be viewed and read online and searches are much easier to do.

        • babyruthless says:

          I really don’t know about recommending journal reading in lieu of textbooks. I’m a PhD student in economics, and my senior (undergrad) capstone class had me reading some journal articles, and they were almost universally over my head. It doesn’t seem like they would be terribly useful–very dense, tons of math. Bleck.

          • burnedout says:

            My intro to econ prof had us reading journal articles to supplement the text – BUT he’d highlight the parts he wanted us to read. It was usually to point out places where the text was a little out of date. Super interesting and made the course feel more relevant. But, he did the extra work to make sure we weren’t chucked into the deep end…

        • DorsalRootGanglion says:

          I’m sorry you had shitty professors who wrote terrible textbooks. I was taught neuroscience by Mark Bear, who used his own textbook for the course. This textbook is arguably the gold standard for introductory neuro. In my own experience as a professor, I often find myself looking at my texts and saying, “I could do a better job.” One day, I will.

          Reading journal articles is a worthless endeavor for people who are taking below 300 level courses. I couldn’t imagine trying to teach someone physiology based on articles from Nature. Even for upper level courses, most journal articles assume that you know the basic molecular basis of what you’re talking about before delving into a small portion. For example, if I’m teaching molecular memory and talking about a mutation in the NMDA-binding segment of some glutamate receptor and how it works into LTP, I’m running with the assumption that the person already has a basis in the Ca dependent model of LTP.

    • BelleSade says:

      The thing about professors not using their own books shouldn’t always apply. I’ve taken very obscure courses on political events in tiny countries no one seems to know about (yep, not even the Almighty Google), and these professors write books on them and use them in class because there’s literally nothing else.

    • kmw2 says:

      I’m an economics student, and I can tell you the “no updates more than every four years” wouldn’t work for us – the field is in flux (as it generally is) and new research is as important as classical information. Sometimes, more so. Not that that really matters much – the macro theory book I’m working out of right now is the nominally 2009 edition, but the information dates from mid-2007. You know, right before everything went to shit. Then, some of the best books I’ve had have been from the people teaching the course, too. Why ignore a source because the person teaching wrote it, especially if you’re taking a course with an acknowledged field leader? That makes no sense.

      • burnedout says:

        Yes, but a good professor could supplement the textbook with up to date articles for assigned reading. Many of my econ profs did that since the text could be out of date by mid semester anyway.

  24. Straspey says:

    The New York Times is running a forum on this very subject.

    There are many ideas and opinions on how to deal with the sometimes-overwhelming costs related to college textbooks.

    Check out this link:

    “The Real Cost of College Textbooks”

    And, while we’re at it…

    Can I interest anyone in a 1972 edition of Grout’s “History of Western Music” ?

    Really cheap….

  25. Zclyh3 says:

    You have NO IDEA how hard I’m raging about this. Back when I was in college, the bookstore wouldn’t even give me the ISBNs (International Standard Book Number) to the required books for classes. I had to PHYSICALLY show up to the bookstore to get this information. ON top of that, some of the books were prepackaged in some sort of bundle so I couldn’t really find the right ISBNs for the class. ISBN’s are like the UPC codes for books. ONE specific number for ONE specific book. There are NO duplicates.

    Some professors were smart enough to list the ISBN’s on their syllabus, but MOST of the time they don’t. I had a idea where textbooks should be listed ALONG with their ISBN’s when students registered for classes. Now that this law has passed, schools are REQUIRED to share this information.

    All I have to say is it’s about damn time, it’s about F**KING damn time.

    • tooki says:

      Actually, for books, the UPC *is* its ISBN.

      Alas, they aren’t always unique, it sometimes happens that multiple editions of a book receive the same ISBN, and occasionally, two unrelated books get the same ISBN by mistake.

      • Zclyh3 says:

        You sure about that? I’ve never seen two books with the same ISBN even if it’s a new edition. Each one I have encountered has always had a different number.

    • scoosdad says:

      And the sad part is that most college professors, unless it’s one of their own books, have no idea what the books they’re requiring cost in the bookstore.

  26. blueneon says:

    Hmmm I registered for the fall semester yesterday, and I received no list of textbooks. To whom would I speak to to get this?

  27. CBenji says:

    My daughter is enrolled in a private university and she too has received no list of the books she is required to have. I told her about the new requirements as now with the new price on the Kindle I thought it might be nice to get her one. Of course if even half her books were E books it would be wonderful. Last year only 2 out 4 or so were or 4 out of 8, but it was only half of her books as I recall. Needless to say it would definitely help with weight, and also when you have to get a book quickly. But it is funny that there was no list whatsoever. It seems the university has a lot of married people who have their husband’s or wives write a book and then the book is required reading. A good way to make money in academia.

  28. CBenji says:

    My daughter is enrolled in a private university and she too has received no list of the books she is required to have. I told her about the new requirements as now with the new price on the Kindle I thought it might be nice to get her one. Of course if even half her books were E books it would be wonderful. Last year only 2 out 4 or so were or 4 out of 8, but it was only half of her books as I recall. Needless to say it would definitely help with weight, and also when you have to get a book quickly. But it is funny that there was no list whatsoever. It seems the university has a lot of married people who have their husband’s or wives write a book and then the book is required reading. A good way to make money in academia.

  29. DelfinoM says:

    Yea my college bookstore already implemented the ISBN display since July 1st, but they found a clever little annoyance trick if anything, they had the ISBN display as a image instead of text. Theres no reason for them to display it as an image other then making it more inconvinent to lookup books elsewhere.

  30. puka pai says:

    At my school, early registration ends on August 11 and classes start on the 23rd. (Registration started on June 23rd for fall.) The bookstore told me they’d have a list of books for fall “around the 15th”. For students (especially the kids) who don’t know what to get, this means they’ll end up paying a premium for the books they need.

    I started shopping for my books on June 24th and have all but one already. My besy buy this semester was my $70 sociology book for $8 from Better World Books. Though it was listed as “used – good” it was brand new — still had that funky new book smell when I opened it.

    I can’t recommend BWB highly enough. This is my 3rd semester buying from them and have only had one book not as described, a spiral-bound whose back cover had been torn off and then taped back on. But it had all the pages and I paid $20 for a $100 book so I didn’t mind.

  31. ekincam says:

    I once enrolled in a web based humanities class in 2007 as the last class to earn my AA. The school did list one required text book, but on the first day of class, the teacher provided us with a list of about 10 videos that she expected us to watch during the semester.

    My duty station was way the heck out in the sticks and the closest video rental was 40 mi away but they didn’t have a single one of the 10 videos the instructor listed. I checked Half, Amazon, and the usual web 2nd hand places and found nothing. These videos were ever only made on VHS and even the newest one went OOP in 1992. Even if I could find it, it meant I’d have to find or, heck, buy a VCR and TV somewhere. DVD I could have just watched on my laptop.

    Many others in class had the same issue and when I asked if there was anything I could do in lieu of those 10 videos, teacher said no. I ended up dropping the class. As such, the military would not pay the tuition for the class and I ended up paying $300, in addition to the textbook, out of pocket because the school only refunds 80% if dropped after class starts but before the first 2 weeks are over.

    • burnedout says:

      That prof was an asshole, and you should file a complaint with his/her department. I only require videos that I either: a) show in class, b) can find myself FOR FREE online somewhere (and then I post the link), or c) can get permission from the publisher to digitize and show on my password protected course site.

      If it’s not on my required text list then a student should NOT have to pay for it, IMHO.

    • Sol Collins says:

      The college I’m currently going to requires you to buy a custom proprietary edition for said college for a certian class.
      That class happens to be CIS 110, which is where they “teach” you MS Office. Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and Access.
      So, for a global program that is used nearly everywhere, they force you to buy a proprietary product.

      I bought a book, learned the programs myself, and tested out of the class.

  32. babyruthless says:

    I’m a PhD student teaching undergraduate microeconomics. My undergraduate thesis was actually on the way that textbook publishers have increased the rate at which they put out new editions of textbooks after the advent of the internet and its huge resale markets.

    I assigned a relatively new textbook for my class this semester, and I went to the bookstore to check the price. Their used price? $130. I sent an email to my class suggesting that they shop elsewhere–I suggested, my personal favorite textbook search bot.

    There’s pretty much no way that this bill will make professors take prices into account, though. There’s a pretty basic principal/agent problem going on here–publishers ply profs with free books, and profs have pretty much no idea how much they cost (okay, they can look, but what’s the incentive?) Professors want to pick a good book, one that’s easy to teach out of, that has a good test bank, maybe powerpoint slides, etc., but don’t really care all that much about how much the books cost.

    • frank64 says:

      Is there a big enough difference. I thought most of the books for a subject aren’t that far apart?

      • babyruthless says:

        Economics texts, for one, can vary widely between focusing on theory, focusing on math, or trying to do both. Similarly they can have “real world” applications or not. There are books that use calculus and books that use graphs. Even if these were all equally well-written, they wouldn’t all be equivalent–they would be better or worse for different class goals.

    • DorsalRootGanglion says:

      Um, the incentive is to not be a raving douche, that’s why. That said, I have chosen a more expensive textbook because it’s a better fucking book than the one that was standard for the course. The other one was incomplete, confusing, inaccurate in some places, oversimplified in others, etc. I use my own slides and my own test banks.

      You’re a PhD student who teaches nothing if you’re using the textbook as that much of a crutch.

      • babyruthless says:

        The research I did on textbook prices said that price was #9 on the list of attributes that professors considered when adopting a textbook. And there is a basic disconnect between the person who picks out the book and the person who ultimately buys it. I think that’s the root of the problem of high textbook prices.

        And the textbook I picked? Is the cheapest of similar books. I reviewed several, and I think it did the bests of the lot as far as straddling the math/intuition line. I pull homework questions from the test bank (but write my own test questions), and I use the powerpoint slides as a starting point and then heavily edit and rearrange them in a way that I think works best. It’s expensive, but aren’t they all?

  33. tha_interwebz says:

    INsano, learn what you’re saying before you say it. Having worked in department store retail for many years before working in a college store, I can assure you that bookstore margins are among the lowest in retail. Sure, a college store makes 50% or so on clothing and other crap, but a store like Macy’s makes more like 70%. And the bookstore only carries that crap to MAKE money….the margin on textbooks averages 25-27%. This is BEFORE shipping, before paying salaries, before paying any other rent or overhead. Don’t believe me? Publishers will confirm this for you. Speaking of publishers, that’s where the real racket is, my friend. Buy yourself a multibillion-dollar international publishing conglomerate like Pearson or the idiotically named Cengage and just watch the money roll in every single time you decide to delete a sentence and publish a new edition.

    July 31, 2010 2:49 PM
    Hallefuckinglujah! Bookstores had higher margins than drug dealers…and they got to re-buy their drugs and then resell them for 95% of their first sale price. It was one thing if you were rich in college, but a lot of us weren’t and hated that we couldn’t order online for lack of time. Book sharing didn’t work after 101 classes either.

    Bastard college bookstores. Little Napoleonic emperors, enjoy your exile!

  34. Mary says:

    I’ll believe it when I see it. The reason the bookstores don’t get the lists until the week before is because the professors don’t provide it. My school has repeatedly said they’d LOVE to give us the lists early, because it makes their life easier too. But they can’t get the professors to actually give them the book lists on time at all.

    Unless the professor and not the school is carrying the punishment for this, I don’t know that I believe it will actually happen.

    • burnedout says:

      It isn’t always the professor – I submitted my fall book list in February but our department secretary didn’t put it in the university system until July. But, if you’re talking to that secretary, what is he/she going to say? I was in the room when he said “I’m sorry, but Dr. Burnedout has not submitted a list yet. Why don’t you email her directly.” Then I waved at him, showed him the completed form on his desk and asked him to revise that statement…

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      I’ll believe it when I see it.

      MTE, unfortunately. I expect that some professors and/or staff will flat out ignore this.

  35. MagicJewball says:

    Oh, my school just started showing it for the summer session and I thought, “this is way too cool for my school to have come up with, and yet they did, wow.” Now I see they were forced to, ha. But it’s great. The course listing has links to both the syllabus and book list so you can see which books are needed most. The book link goes to some Barnes & Noble site which tells you the list price and how much it would cost if they have a used copy. Which is so helpful because then I can compare used prices at the bookstore with prices online.

  36. drmk says:

    As a college professor myself, let me just say that some of us do consider cost very carefully when choosing books, and also provide the list to the bookstore well in advance. I know some don’t, but please don’t paint us all with the same fiscally irresponsible paintbrush.

    Now let me issue a plea of my own — if I’m requiring you to buy a workbook, please don’t buy a used copy of the workbook and then complain to me when there are pages missing out of it that are required for homework assignments. No, I won’t give you an A because you couldn’t do the assignment because you didn’t have the pages. No, I won’t give you an extension on the homework because you didn’t have the pages.

    If you buy a used workbook, guess what — there’s a really good chance that there are going to be some pages missing out of the workbook, and it is YOUR responsibility to figure out what those are and when you need to make other plans to get those pages from a friend or classmate. So if you insist on saving money by buying a used workbook, be prepared and be responsible.

    • kromelizard says:

      It’s a brush you deserve to be painted with and in no way unfair. The majority of your colleagues are woefully underinformed about their own materials and place their orders late.

    • whogots is "not computer knowledgeable" says:

      I appreciate that you are at least thinking about it, but please understand that you’re in the minority. Peer pressure is the only way to modify PhDs’ behavior — if in fact it can be done at all — so you can further serve your students after you finish compiling your list, by going down the hall glowering at your slack coworkers.

      Also? Also! There is exactly zero excuse for assigning workbooks in 2010. Or even 2005. You could compile classnotes and sell them through the bookstore for $5 to $10. You could, HEAVEN FORFEND, strongarm your department into giving you a personal website (you probably have one already) and learn to post worksheets/labs to it, preferably in a timely fashion and without Microsoft Word.

      You could also, as one of my profs did, assign a book with a passcode for labs online, then negotiate with the publisher to provide access for students who bought used copies of the book. I don’t know how I feel about that.

      But instead, you let some dirty publisher gouge students for $20-$35 for a book they won’t be allowed to sell back. Why on Earth, if you are cost-sensitive, would you do that?

  37. Sonicjosh says:

    My college was smart enough to be nice, you borrow your books from them at the beginning of the semester, return them at the end, and you can buy them after that if you really want to. The price is built in to the tuition.

    • kromelizard says:

      The downside is you likely pay significantly more for books than students who buy their own, but because the cost is hidden you’ll never know.

    • burnedout says:

      Do you go to Eastern Illinois? If so, it’s not all built into the tuition – some is supplemented by an alumni endowment.

  38. AcaGuy says:

    As someone who teaches at a Research I University I can applaud this idea, but it is just not realistic. First, often I am not assigned to a course until well after registration has begun. This is department bureaucracy and cannot be helped. However, I often refuse to use standard textbooks (the kind that would be automatically listed here) because they do not promote student learning. Second, although textbooks are expensive students should not avoid classes because of cost.

    I work very hard to make sure students don’t buy books they do not need. I use plenty of e-reserves to supplement books so students do not buy a book and only read a short section. Although some textbooks are the bane of academic life, some are very good. If you outright refuse to buy a book (as has been implied below) because it costs more than $75 you are not investing in your education.

    New editions are pushed by publishers and often bookstores leave faculty with no choice. This summer I was informed the bookstore ordered (and my students bought) a new edition of their book 1 week before I was to begin teaching. So lay off the faculty are so awful because stuff. Chose courses carefully, look at instructor evals, but never make a decision based on textbook cost. Doing so is an abdication of your own responsibility to your education.

    Also, just because you do not like the book does not mean it is a bad book. I wish everything I assigned could be incredibly interesting, but at times you just need to move through material, even if its dry.

  39. P_Smith says:

    If you can resist the urge to highlight and doodle, consider a textbook rental service like Chegg.

    Just how hard is it to use post-its? They also have the benefit that you can remove and keep them later if you wrote good quality notes for yourself.

    If the institution is violating the rule on informing students, a cheap scanner with good resolution is also a good investment, if you want to split the cost a of a textbook. If they’re going to screw the students, screw ’em back.


  40. lain1k says:

    I have to read this law because it’s a week or two after registration started and the books are “being finalized”. They are typically being finalized until a week before class. If my school is violating this I wonder what I can do about it.

  41. a3219806 says:

    Here’s a good way to buy books for comparison shopping.

    I bought a $150 book for $40 shipped.

  42. Abradax says:

    Most quarters, my books cost more than tuition (community college)
    And I LOVE when the school or professor package their own books, make it required, then don’t use the book in the course… oh of course the book is non returnable if opened, and they do something awesome like putting a study sheet or syllabus in the package so you are forced to open it.

  43. Corinthos says:

    Won’t stop those special versions that I can’t get online because it comes with a CD for a key to a website that I can’t buy separately. 3 of my books came that way on my last year the key let us onto a special website under through a third party. It was a one time use code and when I put it in my school was selected all ready and couldn’t change it. If it wasn’t my last year I would have went elsewhere the next..

  44. AngryK9 says:

    “You’re not a unique snowflake”

    Exactly. If only everyone else on the planet would realize this…

  45. bct says:

    As a professor and avid Consumerist fan, I have to say that I hate this new regulation. We are being asked to submit our Fall textbook choices as early as March and our Spring choices as early as October. The truth is that good faculty use the summer and winter break to think deeply about their upcoming classes and, in the case of the humanities at least, we try to make sure that they are very topical and up to date. A good professor doesn’t simply rehash the same course over and over again, but tries to keep them up to date and tries to bring the latest discoveries and insights to students. In my field, new interesting books are coming out all of the time and I use the summer and winter breaks to look through them carefully and decide which ones to teach. If I’m forced to do this in the middle of a semester, when I am up to my eyeballs in the day-to-day demands of teaching, I’m not going to be able to check out the latest literature on classes I’m not currently teaching. The result may be that I’m less inclined to teach new material and more likely to rehash the old stuff.

    My solution has been to send the syllabus (with ISBN numbers) to students at least a couple of weeks in advance of the start of the semester. That way, they know what they are getting into ahead of time, and can search out the most affordable options for the books. I also place my assigned books on reserve (multiple copies when possible) so that students don’t have to purchase them if they can’t afford to.

  46. Tim says:

    I had a lot of professors who would add a book at random times during the semester. Annoying.

    Would that be allowed under the new regulations?

  47. burnedout says:

    I just had some moron student email me asking if “all the texts on my book list were required.” First of all, it’s a month until school, I’m not on contract, and no I’m answering your bs email. Second, what list? There’s one book. That says in big red letters “required.” Buy it, you idiot.

  48. smo0 says:

    “You’re not a unique snowflake”

    That’s the best advice I’ve seen given to a college student.

  49. sooperstring says:

    Sucks to be a class that wants or needs to add material mid-semester, I suppose.

  50. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Most of my literature professors didn’t care if we used annotated editions of certain works, as long as we had the complete text. If you showed up to class, you could get the supplemental material and they almost always photocopied extras for us as handouts.

    On the other hand, criminology courses required updated editions because the material changes. Forensics especially.

  51. ModernTenshi04 says:

    Best thing to do? Wait until the class starts to see if you even need the damn books. I can’t tell you how many generic classes I took where the instructor gave you everything you needed in the class notes, making the $70 “required” text book for the class a completely worthless purchase, even if you got it used for far less.

    I passed an entire Biology elective class without buying the $90 text book, using the Internet and Wikipedia, along with the copious notes the instructor provided. Yes, I got an A in the class. When the class came to an end, the book store was only buying back 30 copies of the book, so students rushed there after the final, while I took a nice, easy stroll to my car to go home.

    Don’t make me waste my video game money on a book if you’re just going to reproduce it in your PowerPoint for the class.

    Another pro tip: if you have to buy the books, look to see if the instructor is teaching the next levels up, which might allow you to reuse the same books. I did that for my two English generics in college, and while I hated reading nothing but books about Native Americans (it was her theme/agenda), it saved me ~$100 the semester after the 101 class by being able to use the same books for the 201 class she taught. My C++ instructor made it a point to have us buy a book that could be used for all three levels of the C++ courses the university offered.

    Just gotta make sure you register as early as you can so you can ensure you’ll have them as an instructor.

  52. Nicole says:

    In addition to helping students save money, HEOA contains another provision that will help end textbook rip-offs for good. The law requires publishers to inform professors of textbook prices and revision histories when marketing books. Research by the PIRGs found that publishers frequently withhold this information, leaving faculty in the dark about how much books actually cost.

    Textbook prices are out of control because students are captive consumers. A third party (professors) assigns books on their behalf, so students have little choice but to pay whatever absurd price publishers charge. Requiring publishers to disclose their prices will help mediate this market failure by ensuring professors have the information they need to consider cost on behalf of students. Over time, basic economics suggests that this will force publishers to bring their prices down overall.

  53. Armand1880 says:

    I manage a college textbook store (don’t hate, it feeds my family and keeps a roof over their heads). I’m a recent college grad, so I’m all for lower prices on textbooks – I’m very serious about checking online prices for textbooks we sell here in the store and cutting our profit margins to be competitive – so I have no problem with the general idea of this law.

    There is one big problem with the law in that that it does not have guidelines for professors about changing their book orders. We get thousands (literally thousands) of textbook requests from professors the month before classes start. If students can register for Fall classes in February and professors have to have book information in by then, what we are afraid of is that professors will just put in a title to be compliant, and change it just before classes start to the one they really want (or the one the publisher rep has wooed them into using). By then we’ve spent thousands of dollars on inventory that we’ll have to send back to publishers and wholesalers if the books are changed, and worst of all some students would have already bought their books and won’t know about the change until the 1st day of class. Then they’ll be scrambling to return the book to the Amazon or eBay seller. It’s up to the department at the schools to keep the book orders consistent and orderly, and in my experience they don’t do a great job.