It’s that time of year. College students are heading back to campus, taking most of their parents’ hard-earned money with them. After ponying up for tuition, room and board, there’s one more big outlay to start off every semester – the textbooks. While a parsimonious parent conceivably could convince his or her progeny to take classes that don’t require any reading, this little economy might ultimately impact negatively on the student’s quality of education.
Brace yourself for some serious sticker shock. A college student typically spends an average of $700 to $1,100 on textbooks annually. The market for new textbooks is estimated at $3.6 billion this year. According to a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office, the price of textbooks nearly tripled between 1986 and 2004, rising an average of 6 percent a year. (During this same period, inflation rose a mere 3 percent a year.) In California, the state auditor reported last week that textbook prices have skyrocketed 30 percent in the past four years. WOW! Last month, Congress passed legislation forcing textbook publishers to release more information about their prices. The legislation also requires selling textbooks separately rather than packaged with a companion CD or workbook that makes for a more expensive purchase. However, these provisions will not take effect until 2010.
Here at CHEAPIOSITY, this kind of information turns our stomachs (and simultaneously drains our family coffers – a founding staffer’s daughter is back East matriculating in private college as you read this post) so we’ve sent our crackerjack staff out to the worldwide web to bring you some alternative solutions that will help you and your almost-grown yard-apes. After negotiating your financial aid package, you can hardly bargain-shop on the big-ticket elements of higher education like tuition, room and board, but you might be able to save some serious moolah on textbooks.
Six of the major textbook publishers (including McGraw Hill, Pearson, Cengage, etc) have started a website, http://www.coursesmart.com/, which sells subscriptions to digital copies of textbooks. You purchase subscriptions for the length of time needed, and there’s a limitation of how many pages you can print, and they can’t be returned. www.flatworldknowledge.com/ offers free online textbooks and charges students fees to download or print them. Also take a look at http://www.ichapters.com/ and http://www.springer.com/. Check individual publishers to see if they have eTextbook sites, as well as http://www.cafescribe.com/, and don’t forget to ask your college bookstore if they offer access to eTextbooks.
Price Comparison Sites:
Since almost anything can be bought online these days, take a look at price comparision search engines specific for textbooks, like: http://www.bigwords.com/, http://www.cheapesttextbooks.com/, http://www.booksprice.com/, http://www.half.com/, http://www.bookholders.com/ for both new and used books. Let’s not forget Barnes & Noble (http://www.bn.com/) or Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/) or eBay (http://www.ebay.com/).
When their school term is over, most students head back to the bookstore see what they can get for their unwanted books.
Another solution is to rent textbooks. At sites like: http://www.chegg.com/, http://www.bookrenter.com/, and http://www.campusbookrentals.com/, students pay as little as a third of the retail price and then return it at semester’s end. Buying a used book can be even cheaper than renting so compare prices before making your decision. Remember too that renting may not include supplementary materials like workbooks or CDs, so know exactly what you’re renting. Finally, keep in mind that you are renting the book. You must return the book in good condition or you will have to buy it outright. If you habitually tend to go highlighter-crazy or break the spines or dog-ear pages, renting might not be the ideal system for you.
Yes, you can actually get free textbooks to download. Sites like,: http://www.freeloadpress.com/ offer free downloads by selling advertising to supplement their costs. Sites like http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Main_Page have over 25,000 titles. These titles are older or out of copyright texts. The problem with these sites is lack of selection, but it’s definitely worth a look.
The Bottom Line:
Remember to comparison shop. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy used then to rent. Know what you’re buying or renting….does your purchase include the workbook or CD you need? Maybe you want to buy a used textbook and a new companion workbook. Mix and match, buying only what you need and avoiding bundled items if you don’t need them.
If you do buy textbooks, used or new, take it easy on them. Condition counts.
You can always sell them at your student bookstore or online with a click of your cursor on an online site like: Amazon. (For busy students, Amazon has even come up with an even easier system to sell all your unwanted textbooks called EasySell. You ship them the textbooks you don't need any more, and, for a nominal charge, they sell and ship them for you.)
Think of it as recycling with benefits. Think green. As in dollars and the environment.
UPDATE AS OF 9/2009: Take a look: