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Should You Rent or Buy Textbooks? A Look At Your Options

Sep 16, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 3 Comments

The average student spends approximately $850-$900 per year on textbooks. That’s no small amount of money—and with the cost of everything from basic household items to tuition rising faster than wages, students and parents are more desperate now than ever to save money wherever they can. Textbook publishers have traditionally had a captive audience in students—they could charge ridiculous amounts because students had no choice but to buy the new version from the college bookstore. But now there are several other options—although some may not be as cost-effective as they seem. Here’s a look at your options. 

Buying from your college bookstore

If you don’t have time to shop around and aren’t concerned about price, the college bookstore is a terrific option. Unfortunately, the convenience of the bookstore comes with a big drawback: it’s expensive. It’s not unusual for students to spend over a thousand dollars per year on books through the traditional bookstore. You may have no choice, however, if your professor doesn’t get you a syllabus until a day or two before class starts—and you don’t have time to shop around or order cheaper books online. Even so, however, it might be worth it to share a book with a friend for a few days while you look into cheaper options.

Stack of Books







Buying used from your college bookstore

Some college bookstores will buy your books back used at the end of the semester—for as little as 10% of the new price—and then sell them back to students the following semester. This might be a good alternative to buying new if you get your syllabus late.

While you can save money in college this way, you won’t save a lot—the used price is generally set to about 25% less than the price of a new book, which might not make a big price difference if the book you’re trying to buy is over $100. You may also not have a wide selection of books.

Buying from an online used bookstore

There are many used bookstores online that sell college textbooks, and you can save a significant amount over buying new or used from your campus bookstore—many used books from online stores come in at under 50% of the list price at a campus store.

The biggest drawback to this method is the wait time. You’ll need to allow at least two weeks for shipping, especially if you don’t want to pay for expedited shipping. Still, if you have a friend who can share a book with you until your textbooks come, this may be an ideal way to get your books.

Renting from a textbook rental company

Fees for renting textbooks are often under 50% of the retail price, and can be less than buying used from an online retailer as well. But there are drawbacks; returning your books late or not at all can result in an extra fee, as well as returning a book in worse condition than when you got it. You can’t write in a rented textbook or sell it back when you’re done. And buying your book at the end of the rental period is often not cheaper than buying it new at the campus bookstore. While renting is a cheap option, it may not be cheaper than buying used.

Buying e-books

The textbook industry is rushing to catch up with the popularity of iPads and Kindles. But in terms of the cost of e-books it may not actually be cheaper than buying at the campus bookstore—especially when you factor in the cost of the device itself, which could be as much as $189 for a Kindle and over $500 for a less expensive version of the iPad. Most e-books cost on average a slight amount less than books at the bookstore—and that cost evens out further when you realize you can’t recoup some of your money by selling the book back.

Downloading open textbooks

Through a Creative Commons license, there are currently approximately 450 college textbooks available online for free. The library of open-source textbooks is being promoted by the City College Textbook Affordability Task Force, which is trying to get the word out to professors. Of course, if your professor doesn’t use open textbooks, you can’t, either. But if you’re lucky enough to have professors who are willing to use open textbooks, you’ll save a considerable amount this way.
Buying college textbooks isn’t cheap—and your options may depend on how aware your professors are of textbook cost issues. If your professors are willing to get you a syllabus within enough time to order used bookstores, however—and are even willing to use open textbooks when possible—you may be able to save money while in school on your books this year.


distanceedudev Over a year ago


Chitownchica Over a year ago

I think renting is a great option for all those entry level courses one has to take. In many of those cases the used books go fast, are often very worn out and you have no interest in keeping those texts later either.

CD Chasteen Over a year ago

The more true notion is to have entering college freshmen buy a kindle. Then down load their books for a rental fee for the semster or current term. The printing texts books on paper would laterally decrease and saving precious enviroment rescources would be accomplished. Revisions to text books could downloaded very easily and a smaller charge for book rentals could be charged. Universities could offer a Kindle incentive program as a purchase with all the fees included for the same price at the beginning of each term.

This would cut down on books having to be be resold and so heavily highlighted that the next person that uses the text book wont have to suffer thru a lower quailty book.

You could in addition add a option on the Kindle for notes and highlighting.

If a book purchase is your thing, download it to your account forever and keep a digital copy in your personal reference library.

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