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Ways to Find Cheap College Textbooks

Updated on May 6, 2018
Keep reading for how to save money and find cheap college textbooks.
Keep reading for how to save money and find cheap college textbooks. | Source

College Students and Textbooks

College students spend a lot on books, so here are some ways to beat the bookstore and save money on textbooks!

There are only TWO reasons to buy a book from the bookstore!

(However, eight are included as these may be reasons as well depending on personality, preferences, etc.)

Reasons to buy a book from the bookstore:

1. If the book required of the course is a customized edition.

2. If you are not sure whether the course you are taking is one you will keep and/or would like to keep.

--(and the other reasons)--

3. If you want to buy your books at the bookstore/prefer that experience.

4. If you do not want to wait for a book to arrive and want to have a book in your hands relatively quickly.

5. If you are a procrastinator and like to buy books at the last minute.

6. If you need the book(s) ASAP.

7. If you do not want to have to spend time searching for books, comparing prices, finding other resources, etc.

8. If you don’t feel comfortable purchasing/renting things on the internet.

If none of these reasons affect/apply to you, please proceed!

Things to Get

1. Book ISBN

-This is a book’s “fingerprint.”

-Is available at bookstore website and/or by emailing the professor.

2. Title, author, edition*

3. Bookstore’s new and used price, if used will be carried, and how many used will be in stock/provided (for comparative and option purposes).

*Emailing professors prior to the semester can help clarify if this specific edition is necessary. Very often older and/or alternate editions may be cheaper even if it is not the one the professor is requesting. Sometimes the professor is requesting a specific book (and it may or may not be necessary for it to be that specific edition) and sometimes the professor requests a book title and the bookstore seeks whatever edition it wants, which normally isn’t the cheapest one!

**Also keep in mind that professors sometimes will submit their request to the bookstore later, and/or will add or take away titles from the request that they have sent to the bookstore at different points in time. Emailing the professor is a way to get confirmation and clarification of the titles.

Save Money on Textbooks Option A: Look for What is Free

Ask yourself the following questions:

- Is this a literature book?

- Is this book hard to find?

- Do I want this book for free?/Am I okay with borrowing it?

If so…

InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

- Request books, articles, pdfs, chapters, etc. through your university’s InterLibrary Loan service.

- Universities can use their resources/connections to other libraries to see if that book can be borrowed, and/or if your university has it at a different library/location to be transferred.

- If the book can be borrowed, another library loans it to your university. The libraries at your university then loan it to you for a period of time determined by the lending library and ILL staff.

Library Express (or a similar service)

-Your university can find a book/text/article for you that is located on campus and put it on reserve for you.

- Saves you the time of having to search through the isles/stacks/different libraries and when ready you can go to the library to just pick it up!

-Can find where a book is a located and what libraries hold that book anywhere in the world.

-If accessed from home: you put in your zip code and can look for the book starting from your area going outward.

-If accessed from your university: the system recognizes the computer/internet address as belonging to your university if it is registered with With the system recognizes the computer/internet address as belonging to your university there is a feature where you can request ILL and will fill out the information needed for ILL for that book.


- If the author has been gone a long time and/or if the copyright has expired, the literature is very often on the internet! (People like Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf, Gustauve Flaubert, etc.)







- Also, sometimes typing in “Organic chemistry free pdf” or “mathematics tan 3rd edition free pdf” may yield results. CAUTION: Not all sites are legitimate, sometimes they don’t work, and some of these downloads present the same problems that come with file-sharing (ie. legality issues, virus concerns, etc.) as well as copyright issues.

Save Money on Textbooks Option B: Buy on the Cheap (Or, Cheaper than the Bookstore and Elsewhere)

-Generally a good starting place! Normally the best place in my experience.

-Has cheap textbooks

-Good for bids on textbooks, but is generally better.

-Has cheap textbooks

-A good place to look for supplementary material (i.e. Mastering Physics, WileyPlus, etc.) at a cheaper price.

-Sometimes has cheap textbooks or has good prices on international textbooks.

-Buying local.

-People sell their textbooks there and normally at a reasonable price. Sometimes you can get cheap textbooks.

-Has cheap textbooks.

-Sometimes has good prices on international textbooks.

-Sometimes has cheap textbooks.

-If having to pay full price is inevitable in your book-buying, this site is good! Free shipping, plants a tree, eco/carbon-friendly shipping for .05 cents, and funds go toward helping world literacy.

-Has both leisure books and textbooks.

-A good option for used books, cheap textbooks, and often ties with

-A good place to look for supplementary material (i.e. Mastering Physics, WileyPlus, etc.) at a cheaper price.

-Offers a textbook trade-in program.

-Compares different textbook search engines/websites that offer textbooks and will normally find you the cheapest textbooks when comparing multiple sites.

*Sometimes omits books that are cheaper; still need to check websites individually.

**There are other search engines that do the same job, and that also need to be checked for thoroughness/cheaper books as these engines sometimes miss cheaper prices in some of the engines.

***Is good for comparing which places will give you the best buyback value for your textbook.

Save Money on Textbooks Option C: Rent

-Cheap prices/cheap textbooks.

-Good for short time frame lending.

*Most times renting (form anywhere) costs the same as buying used, so it helps to check both. Also, since the cost between renting and buying used is normally about the same, it is better to buy used than rent as you can sell your book later or keep it as a reference.

**”30-Day any reason guarantee” (for returns)

***Other places also offer textbook rental.

Save Money on Textbooks Option E: Find/Make a Friend and See if You Can Split the Cost of What You Have to Spend

-Lower cost

-Requires that you either have a friend or make a friend who is willing to spend the cost and custody of the required textbook or materials and who is responsible and reliable in this sharing.

Save Money on Textbooks Option D: Find/Make a Friend and See if to You Their Book They Lend



-Requires that you either have a friend or make a friend who is willing to lend their book to you.

For the Late Bird/Procrastinator/Recent Discoverer of this Book Buying Guide:

If you have found a textbook at a cheaper price or are in the process of looking and your semester has already started (as in very recently) don’t despair! In the time that you find the textbook and have it shipped to you, you will be looking at approximately 7-14 business days. However, if you are ordering within the first week of classes, universities usually allow until the third week for book returns for a refund. So you can buy a book from your university bookstore, find a cheaper one online, and return the textbook for a full refund once your book has arrived and not fall behind in the class while you wait for your textbook!

To make this work:

-You must jump on this during the first week of school in order to work within shipping constraints (even with express shipping—you never know!).

-You must buy your textbook USED from the bookstore. Buying your textbook new would show wear and tear on the textbook when returned and would make it ineligible for a refund. Also, new textbooks very often come shrink-wrapped, which does not work for refund purposes.

-You must return your book by the return deadline. Be sure to check the deadline at your university.

Perks to this approach:

-Gives you time to see if the book is needed for the course.

-Still allows you to save money.

For Those Not Afraid to Try International Textbooks

International textbooks are cheaper and legal alternatives to buying the American editions of textbooks.

-Same to nearly identical content to the U.S. edition.

-International editions often say “Not for Sale in the U.S.;” this is only because publishers don’t want these editions sold in the states but they are legal and legitimate alternatives to buying the American edition.

-PLEASE NOTE: At times international editions will vary slightly from their U.S. counterparts in things like the end-of-chapter problems, being paperback instead of hardcover, etc. While it is possible to find the end-of chapter problems via another route, if these differences are deal-breakers, do not purchase international editions.

To make this work:

-Get your book ISBN and look for it online.

-Do a search engine search for “[your textbook title] International Edition” and look at the websites that appear.

-Often international editions are available at,, and

Perks to this approach:

-Same content; cheaper price.

-Paperback (instead of hardcover); less weight.

For the Textbook Deal Hunter

Sometimes websites will offer an additional percent (5-20%) off when buying textbooks that match given criteria (being a first time shopper, buying in the month of July, etc.). Keep an eye out for these as they can result in more savings! A good site for this that looks for these deals and includes them in the total when applicable is

About Making Online Purchases

When buying online, it is better to pay with a credit card than a debit card because should your information be compromised on anyone’s server, credit cards have more protections on them than debit cards. Compromised servers can happen anywhere, even when making purchases in a store using a credit/debit card.

At times, things don’t always go according to plan (sometimes there are delays, books get lost in the mail, etc.) so try to give yourself sufficient time when making purchases before the semester starts to work things out or to make sure you have what you need.

Things to Keep in Mind

-It is important to note, that campus bookstores (or any bookstore really) will sell you the books at an expensive price and will buy it back from you super cheap only to sell it at a high price on their shelves, and that's IF they buy your textbook back. Sometimes, they will not buy your books back or will offer you something like $2.00 for a book you paid over $50.00 for just weeks before.

So the cheaper you find your book in the beginning, the less money you will be down in both the short and long run.

Also, some courses do not actually USE the books that they require which often becomes apparent after the return deadline and/or after you have opened the shrink wrap. If this happens, you are down less money for a book that you did not need than if you had purchased it full price from the bookstore. To take the extra initiative to avoid this altogether, wait to see if you can get a feel for the course to see if the books are actually necessary.

In some cases (and use your judgment with this one), ASK the professor if the textbook is needed. I once asked a professor who I was taking an inter-session course from if I needed the textbook. She told me that SHE had never taken a course without purchasing a textbook, but that she did teach the material that we would need to know and that it was possible to do the course without the textbook but to for-sure buy the audio materials because we would be tested on those. I explained to her that because it was a two-week course and because of finances, I didn't want to buy the book if it wasn't necessary. She understood and held to what she had mentioned before. And sure enough, I did not need the textbook, I DID need the audio materials, and she did teach the material that we needed to know.

However, there are some professors who would find it insulting if you asked them if you needed the textbook and might interpret it as a lack of dedication and seriousness on your part. So like I said, use your judgment with this one.

I have also emailed professors before the start of the semester (the earlier the better; it takes time for them to respond, and some take more time than others) explaining that I was looking to see if I could find books at affordable prices, and if they could please send me the ISBN, the edition, and the author. Most of them respond, and many are happy to oblige.

To do this, I first look to see if that information is available at the campus bookstore, and if it is available at the campus bookstore, I normally email the professor to confirm that the book listed with the campus bookstore is indeed the book required for the course and will provide the information to which I am checking to see is correct.

If the information is not available from the campus bookstore, then I will explain that I had checked with the campus bookstore and had found that there was no course book listed, and did not know if that was because there was no textbook or if the course textbook had not yet been submitted. After explaining, then I would ask if they could please help me with the information.

In both cases it is important to show that you've done your homework, otherwise it will look like you're lazy and asking them for things that you should be finding yourself.

And lastly, in both face-to-face and online communication in doing any of these, it is important to be respectful and mind your manners. I'm always surprised at the complaints professors have about the ways in which students address them and interact with them. Remember that you're representing yourself and that it's important to be respectful in general.

Bargain Book-Buying

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In Closing...

These are just options when it comes to looking for cheaper textbooks.

“The early bird gets the worm” does apply here. The sooner you know for sure what classes you are taking, what books you need, and start looking, the better the odds are for finding the book and finding the book at a good/lower price.

I hope this helps! This is information that I’ve either learned or come across along the way and wish that I had had this information when I started out in college. I just wanted to spread the word for those who could find this information useful. Please use this information to save money on textbooks, find cheap textbooks, and cut college costs. Feel free to pass it on to others.

Look early; look often; do your research before buying.

Happy Bargain Book Buying!


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