Find Cheaper Textbooks Online

The New York Times Bucks Blog has a great feature on finding textbooks for less. There’s a great list of comparison sites in there. Don’t forget too the option of e-textbooks at sites like CafeScribe. Having all the text digitized not only makes it lighter and more portable, but you can easily CTRL-F if you’re trying to find a key phrase or concept.

Finding Cheaper Textbooks: 2nd Edition [NYT Bucks Blog]


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  1. kmw2 says:

    E-textbooks are really terrible value for money, in my experience. They cost 50% to 75% of the print version (or more), you can’t resell them, lend them, or share them, you’re at the mercy of whatever mangled DRM the textbook publisher puts on them, and you usually only get a 90 or 180 day license, making them absolutely useless for future reference. If you’re too lazy to resell your books and not going to use them in future it might be a good choice, but otherwise they’re a ripoff.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      I can deal with everything except the limited license timeline.

      That book, that edition, should be a license for life. No exemptions. Just like a book.

    • ecwis says:

      Very true. That’s why I bought used books this semester instead of eBooks. The DRM thing isn’t that much of an issue though. DRM can be removed pretty easily.

    • SunnyLea says:

      Agreed. I was actually something of an “early adopter” of ebooks and will defend them against naysayers ’til I’m blue in the face (and have often felt compelled to do so).

      However, for textbooks I’m not giving up both my resale value and my right to hang on to the book for future reference. Not unless I’m saving substantially more that 25% – 50%, in any case.

    • one swell foop says:

      Unless they’re free. In that case, you have no DRM, no license that expires, very few portability issues….
      Oh wait! You mean if you decide to be a criminal you actually get all you rights you get if you buy a used copy of the book instead of paying for the ebook?
      Then again, if they priced ebooks in a way that reflects their savings on publishing costs, and didn’t treat people like criminals, they might not make it more appealing to behave in that way…
      But then again, common sense never really applied to established industries.

  2. bsh0544 says:

    Out of school (for a while, anyways), but I’m going to guess that while this is a nice idea, the savings aren’t there relative to a decent condition used book (not to mention there’s no resale value), and the whole thing is probably murderously locked down with DRM.

    I love technology, I love progress, but e-books just aren’t cheap enough to justify what you lose in the exchange.

  3. terrillja says: is the best. I used to look up all my books there when i was doing my undergrad. It’s like pricegrabber but for textbooks only. One site may have a good price for one book but not for another. It made it easy to find the best price and who would ship quickly (because when you need that book, you need it now).

  4. darcmosch says: is pretty awesome of a site as well.

  5. Kate says:

    I’ve never been able to find any text books that were actually assigned electronically available.

  6. Azzizzi says:

    When I first started buying textbooks online from Amazon, that was already a big break. The prices were way lower than the college bookstores, they shipped them to my house, and they arrived much faster than the college bookstore could.

  7. Papa Bear says:

    I ordered all but one of my text-books for the last two semesters on-line. I saved over $600 in comparison to buying them through the school. Never tried e-books, though. Something about a real book I like.

    • jesusofcool says:

      Yeah, I saved tons by buying online through Amazon and Half. Even the online version of Barnes and Noble is cheaper than their physical campus bookstores. And I would buy everything used if possible, even if I had to ask the professor before the class began if it would be ok to use an earlier edition. It also pays to shop around when you’re selling books back. There were a lot of competing services on my campus and I would bring my books to each, get a quote and then return each book wherever I would get the most money. I would never buy an e-textbook either. I like the resale value of a hard copy and I’m one of those visual people who really needs to highlight when I read.

  8. Julia789 says:

    Used to use Chegg, but what happened to them? Where they sold recently or changed management?

    I recently had to return two in a row because they were literally held together entirely with tape, had food stains, and all the test/quiz areas already filled out by previous users, as well as highlighting throughout.

    Previous books I got from them were in near-new or gently used condition (a scuff here or there.)

    • MamaBug says:

      they’re still around – i still get e-mails from them. I had a good experience with the two books i rented for my semester of community college last year (I’ve since switched to steno school, and those are not the kind of things you rent).

      • Julia789 says:

        Yeah the books I got were always good quality until now. I’m not one to complain about a scuff or mark – these were just awful.

  9. sonneillon says:

    Best value is to buy the last edition. Calculus 2 isn’t likely to have many ground breaking changes between edition 37 and edition 38.

    Most of the time they don’t even bother renumbering the problems. Just look off your neighbor if the homework is different and enjoy the hundred bucks you saved.

    • Mom says:

      When I was in school back in the dark ages, the profs were required to keep two copies of the text for each class on reserve in the library. For calculus, I took half the year at one school, and half the year at another school that used a different text. I just went to the library each week, got the calculus text from the reserve desk, and photocopied the problem set. If I needed to look up how to solve a problem, I used the book from the first school.

  10. You Can Call Me Al(isa) says:

    I generally used to buy/sell my textbooks.

  11. bnelson333 says:

    Amazon FTW. A lot of my textbooks have been cheaper to buy new even than renting. Plus I’m the type that wants to keep a lot of my books for future reference, I like that I can get brand new quality on the cheap. Not to mention the free year of Amazon Prime for students.

  12. SunnyLea says:

    I always used on of the sites mentioned:

    They do a good price comparison that includes shipping and any other deals they can round up. I always found it very handy.

    I always sold mine on

    • SunnyLea says:

      Sigh… meant to mention that the price comparison can be done for *all the books you need* together, so that things like “free shipping over x dollars” and such can be taken in to account, and you don’t have to slog through comparing on a book by book basis.

  13. AuntieMaim says:

    I love Alibris. We sell on there too.

  14. brandihendrix says:

    For the past few semesters I have bought used textbooks off Amazon. This semester my Anatomy book would have cost $230 new at the school or $160 off Amazon. I bought the previous edition of the textbook for $10 on Amazon.

    Same information. Same chapters. Same everything as the one the school wanted me to fork over $200 for. The ONLY difference was that the sections were laid out just a little bit differently. So if the class was looking at page 148, I was looking at page 146. No big deal.

    Seriously, if you can, get the previous version of the textbooks. It was save you a TON of money. The only reason publishers keep putting out new versions is so they can keep making money. The information rarely changes.

    This semester I have purchased books for 4 classes (3 of which have labs) for just over $130 off Amazon. If I had purchased my textbooks from the school bookstore, it would have cost me almost $600.

    • lifeat24fps says:

      I’ve been renting. Chegg and similar sites. Shipping is fast, coupon codes all over the place, and unless it’s a book on film the likelihood I’ll need/use/want it in the future are slim. Even with losing out on sell-back factored in it’s been a great deal.

  15. coren says: (my personal favorite for multi-book searches), international editions (seriously, unless you need a color diagram or love heavier hardcover books), always used, don’t rent/get ebooks, resell (online, don’t go to college book buybacks). You can *make* money this way – especially for math/science/engineering students.

    And never forget the library.

  16. holycrapitsjeff says:

    I bought my textbooks for this semester off of amazon. After pricing them at efollet, they were $970ish. After everything was said and done, with express shipping, i paid $270 in all from amazon.
    One of my books was a chemistry book, that is OLD, and eFollet wanted $150, it was $2 on amazon…pwnd.

    How is this news? any decent college student should know how this works.

  17. skitzogreg says:

    Just a tip for those of you about to start school:
    I haven’t done this in awhile, due to the fact in grad school they allowed you to buy the 1st edition of a text (when the 9th was out), but in undergrad, I would go to eBay and misspell a few letters in the title of the textbook. If the seller did not list the ISBN (not sure if this is required now), I would win books for the starting bid. It didn’t happen often, but it worked occasionally for the more expensive books I needed that semester.

  18. Dollie says:

    Schools realize their cash cow is getting smaller with online book sales. Most students (except freshmen it seems) have known about online book sales for a long time. Is Ric Romero now writing for the NYT?

    In my classes this semester, I had no choice but to buy e-textbooks for 2 of my classes. If I want to do my homework, I must do it through a publisher’s website – not on paper. I had to pay the full price for the access and the e-book was “included” in the price. There’s no way to get a discount on this. Oh, and other homework is assigned out of the school-published and school-sold “lab book” that is also a required purchase. No way to buy that one used either.

    Not liking where this is going.

  19. sheriadoc says:

    This is news? I started doing that my freshman year in 2001 when I realized my school’s bookstore was a huge rip-off. A lot of schools advertise “used” copies for less, but they never seem to have any used copies of the books you actually need. And if they do, you don’t save very much.

    I always bought my school textbooks for a lot less from Amazon and Half. And I was an English major, so I had a lot of novels to read for various literature classes as well. Most people would just buy brand new copies (or used, if they had any) from the bookstore. Where did I get mine? I borrowed them from the school library, which everyone seemed to overlook. Saved a ton of money that way.

  20. BorkBorkBork says:

    I got all of my books this semester from But then my orders were all canceled for some odd reason, minus one. It really put me in a bind, but I think it’s due to where I live (odd address in the middle of nowhere).

  21. TBT says:

    What happened to schools being required to list textbooks for courses during registration? I started back to school this week, and don’t have a lot of my books because the professors can’t be bothered to give advance notice of what books we will need. This is a great strategy for profits by the campus bookstore, but in many cases they didn’t even tell the bookstore to order the books. What gives?