Textbook buying 101: How to save big

Katherine Boyle
Reporter August 17, 2012

Textbooks have always been expensive. But gone are the days when you had no other option than to buy the hundred-dollar doorstops for full price at the school bookstore. Before the Internet, students had two choices: Buy the books or head to the library to borrow them. Now, there are more options — perhaps too many — and shopping around for the best prices involves examining Web sites and making choices: Should you buy books used? Go online and have them shipped? (Amazon.com even buys back textbooks in exchange for Amazon credit.) Should you buy or rent?

Amazon recently launched a textbook rental service, and sites such as Bookrenter.com and Chegg.com allow customers to rent a book for a few months, then return it. Or you can forgo paper books entirely: Buy an e-reader and use eBooks, provided they’re available.

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.

We formed a hypothetical course list from required reading lists at a few private high schools in the area. Then we shopped around.

Our conclusion: It’s not hard to find the best price, so there’s no reason to pay full price. You can save hundreds of dollars by writing down the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) , then buying online. (Using the ISBN, instead of the title, will guarantee you get the correct edition). Check out our savings and the sites we tried.

Note: Prices of books can vary by the day or hour. These sales may have expired.


(istockphoto)

Art History

The book

“Art Across Time, Vol. 1: Prehistory to the Fourteenth Century, 4th Edition,” by Laurie Adams

The comparison

Using the ISBN, we looked at Half.com and Amazon and used the comparison shopping site Book.ly to verify the best price. The paperback version’s list price is $142. That’s steep. Half was selling the book used for $87.41. Amazon was listing the new book for $110, used for $78. Book.ly included an eBay .com listing with a starting bid of $70.

Rental

Bookrenter rents the textbook for 125 days. The price for a college semester is $57.49. High school students, who take the class for the full year, might find it’s best to buy it used.

eBook

E-book not available for this book or edition.

Bottom line

Shopping around saves much as $70.

Calculus

The book

“Calculus: Graphical, Numerical, Algebraic,” by Ross L. Finney, Franklin Demana, Bert K. Waits and Daniel Kennedy

The comparison

Using the ISBN, we looked at Half and Amazon and used Book.ly to verify the best price. EFollet.com was offering the book new for $151.50. Half was selling it used for $95, shipping included. Amazon was selling it used for $102. Book.ly had a “Buy It Now” price on eBay of $80.

Rental

If you’re in college, renting this doorstop might be your cheapest solution. For $56.17, you can rent the book for a semester at Bookrenter. High school students might find it’s best to buy the book for the full year.

eBook

We couldn’t find the book in eBook format.

Bottom line

If you’re in a semester-long college calculus course, renting might be more practical. If you’re in high school, try to snag a used copy.

Literature

The book

“Macbeth,” by William Shakespeare

The comparison

Using the ISBN, we looked at Half and Amazon and used Book.ly to verify the best price. We found the requested edition for $6.50 used and $9 new at Half, including shipping. The list price of the edition is $10.

Rental

At Bookrenter, “Macbeth” was unavailable. But it’s so inexpensive, why would you rent?

eBook

“Macbeth” is 99 cents on Kindle. It’s free for the iPad.

Bottom line

You’re reading one of the most famous plays ever written. Buy a used paper version or download the eBook. No need to buy it at list price.

Physics

The book

“Fundamentals of Physics, Chapters 1-20 (Volume 1),” by David Halliday, Robert Resnick and Jearl Walker

The comparison

Using the ISBN, we looked at Half and Amazon and used Book.ly to verify the best price. The list price for the book is $156. Amazon was selling the hardcover book for $128.50 new and $62 used. Half.com was offering it for $90 new and $58 used. Book.ly showed an eBay auction for the edition starting at $43.

Rental

Bookrenter rents the book for $45 a semester.

eBook

There is no eBook listed for this textbook.

Bottom line

You can save more than $90 by going online and buying a used copy. If you want a new book, you can save more than $30 at Half. Renters will also save on this book, whether borrowing for one semester or two.

European History

The book

“A History of Western Society Since 1300,” by John P. McKay, Bennett D. Hill and John Buckler

The comparison

Using the ISBN, we looked at Half and Amazon and used Book.ly to verify the best price. A new book was selling for $130 at eFollet and other booksellers. Half was selling used copies for $19.23 apiece. Prices on Amazon ranged from $25 to $45 for a used edition. Here’s proof of the benefit of shopping around: At Amazon and Half, the new book was selling for a staggering $248.

Rental

Rent the book at Chegg.com for $30.99 a semester.

eBook

An eBook was not available for this title.

Bottom line

Buying a used copy can save you more than$100.

THE BOTTOM LINE: There’s no reason to spend full price on textbooks. There are options for finding deals, whether you rent, buy used or go digital. E-books will usually be cheaper than textbooks, but regardless of your preference, shopping around will save you big time.

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