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7 Tricks to Get the Best Rates on College Textbooks (and How to Rent Them)

Whether you rent, buy, or borrow, here are the best ways to save on books for class.
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College is already expensive, so why spend more than you have to? Some charges can't be avoided — like $995-per-semester mandatory dining plans — but textbooks don't have to be one of them. We've rounded up the best tips to make sure you don't overpay on your textbooks, and some ways to try to avoid having to purchase them at all.

7 Tips For Getting Affordable Textbooks

Don't Buy Right Away

Fight the urge to immediately run out and buy all of your texts as soon as you see your syllabi. Instead, wait until after the first day of class. Most professors will want to cover some ground rules and basics and they're likely to cover how "necessary" that required text at the top of the paper actually is. Plus, if you decide to drop the class or your professor changes the text, you'll save big by waiting.

Don't Buy Unless You Absolutely Have to

If you only need the text for a small amount of material, hit the university library. There's likely to be at least one copy of the text there, hopefully more if it's a popular class. If you're unable to check the book out of the library, you can still avoid having to purchase it by making copies of the relevant chapters or sections. Just ensure those copies aren't going to end up being more expensive than outright buying the book.

But, if this is your plan, odds are there are at least a few of your classmates doing the same. If there's only a handful of books available, make your copies as soon as you can. Don't risk waiting until the last minute unless you've also made a backup plan.

SEE ALSO: How to Get the Best Deal on a Laptop for College

If your professor requires the newest edition, take the time to ask them what the differences are between the one on the syllabus, and the immediate one before it. If they're flexible, you could get away with having a slightly older edition, which could be significantly cheaper.

Share With a Friend

Share the book with friends that are also taking the class. If you can, split the cost of the textbook with a friend, instead of just mooching off of them. Plus, sharing a book is like having a built-in study buddy!

No friends in class? If you know someone who's taken the class, offer to buy their book off them. In most cases you should be able to get a much better deal than if you buy from more traditional sources.

If none of your friends have the book you need, and your professor refuses to budge on editions, try exchange websites like Student2Student. Sites like these allow you to pick your university and then try to set up a swap with other local students.

You Can't Avoid the Bookstore Forever

Sooner or later, you'll come across material that you'll only find at your university bookstore or one of the off-campus stores nearby. It will most likely be something like a lab manual, which tend to be written by professors or teaching assistants handling the labs, and therefore only available through university-approved outlets. When this is the case, knuckle down and pay what you must.

SEE ALSO: Don't Pay More Than This for a College Laptop

Know the Return Policy

No matter where you shop for books, know the return policy. In an effort to make textbooks more affordable, some are available in a looseleaf format at a slightly discounted price. Those stacks of pages are shrink-wrapped, and many bookstores are reluctant to accept returns on them once they've been opened.

Be Aware of Differences Between Editions

Newer editions are typically going to be more expensive than their older counterparts. It's a frustrating matter when professors demand students purchase the newest one, but what's worse is that editions don't even have to change that much from one publishing to the next. Sometimes the only thing a new edition picks up is a new preface.

So how can you find the differences? The good news is that there are conversion sites, and sites like Google Books where you can read select pieces of the texts online. The bad news is that all these options are limited in some way. Conversion sites like An Old Edition are great in theory, but the catalog isn't very extensive. (They do advertise that you can email them regarding custom conversions, though.)

Sometimes the only thing a new edition picks up is a new preface.

Google Books and Hathi Trust have only certain sections available to view, or a limited total selection. If you can persuade your professor to volunteer the differences, you'll save yourself some time. And if you can't, your best bet might be sitting down with two physical copies and trying to discern the differences yourself.

Unfortunately, there will be times that it's probably in your best interest to shell out for that newest edition. Science textbooks often are updated with new information based on research. And math textbooks will change problems from year to year, which means you need the same edition as your professor so that your answers match up.

E-Readers for eBooks

Buying digital textbooks can often save you a lot of money, as long as you have some kind of e-reader to use them. You can easily download the free Kindle app to your current laptop, tablet or smartphone, and then read your digital texts there. However, if you prefer a Kindle reader, there are four options in a range of prices for you to choose from. For more on the differences between Kindles, check out our guide to the latest high-end version.

Fire tablets are great if you're looking for an affordable tablet option with more functions than just an e-reader. Like the Kindles, there are four different models of the Fire. Unlike the Kindles though, the Fire tablets vary significantly from model to model.

The Top 10 Rental Sites

Prices will change, so whether you're renting or buying, it's worth doing at least a little research to make sure you find the lowest rate. From week to week, prices can change depending on demand or how close a semester is to beginning or ending.

Site Advertised Savings Benefits
Chegg 90% Free shipping on $50+
Sell back available
Barnes & Noble 90% Free shipping on $25+
Returns ship free
Sell back available (must have $10 worth of books to sell in order to participate)
Amazon 90% Free shipping on select orders
Free return shipping
Sell back available (in form of Amazon gift card)
BookRenter 90% Free shipping both ways
Can highlight and make notes in rentals
Sell back not available
Bookbyte 87% 3 - 5 day shipping on orders $49+
Expedited shipping for $2 more
Returns ship free
Sell back available, quote is good for 30 days
Can receive payment via check or PayPal
CampusBookRentals 50% to 85% Free shipping both ways
Can highlight in rentals within reason
TEXTBOOKRUSH 90% Free shipping on $35+
Sell back available
Can receive payment via cash, PayPal, or store credit
Receive 5% more back with store credit
knetbooks 65% to 85% Free shipping on every order
ecampus 90% Free shipping on $59+
Reward program offering up to $20 off books
Sell back available
Receive payment via check, direct deposit, or store credit
Receive bonus with store credit
Bigger Books 91% Free shipping on $59+
Offers daily deals

Rental Sites With the Lowest Rates

When compiling our research, we checked prices on 32 different textbooks, ranging from a variety of subjects. We found that the best rental rate came from ecampus.com, with that site having the best prices for 25% of the books.

As for buying from these sites, Bookbyte clearly had the best prices for both new and used titles, showing the lowest rates for half of the books we checked. Amazon came in a close second for buying new titles, and won out widely for renting and buying ebooks copies of textbooks.

A Note on Comparison Sites: Expect Higher Rates

So many textbook rental sites are available that shopping for them can be overwhelming. It might seem like a good idea to use a comparison site, like half.com, Textbook Rentals, Valore Books, or Big Words to narrow down your choices. The problem is that these comparison sites don't always list all the different direct sites, and as we discovered, the prices can vary wildly.

For instance, you might find that visiting the website Campus Book Rentals will list a rental for $16.99. You would expect that a comparison site would list the exact same price when it provides that listing for Campus Book Rentals. But that's not always the case. That same book could cost $17.99 through a comparison site. Or, it could cost much more. We saw some books cost nearly $10 more through a comparison site than what the direct site lists. In at least one instance, a book was three times more expensive on a comparison site compared to the direct site it was listed from.

SEE ALSO: These Are the Dos and Don'ts of Back-to-School Shopping

Best for Buyback: Sell Early and Check Rental Sites

When the semester is over, university bookstores are usually packed with students trying to sell their books back. However, if you try to sell it back at the same time as the rest of your class, odds are you either won't receive very much or they might not even be taking it back. You're most likely to get the best buyback rate if you sell back to your university as soon as they start the process. This could be as early as the last two weeks of class, or it could be when finals start.

If you don't want to sell to the university or off-campus bookstore, check rental sites. Not only will they be willing to pay more sometimes, but if they're not taking the book at all you can still try to sell it through their marketplace. Which is better than donating it or being stuck with a textbook you'll never use again.

Typically, you'll probably see better buyback prices from rental sites or Amazon than your bookstore anyway. Be aware though that if you sell it to Amazon, you won't receive cash like some other sites. Instead, you'll receive an Amazon gift card.

Readers, did we leave out any tips? What are your tried-and-true ways of finding the best value in textbooks? Sound off in the comments below!


Staff Writer

As a college student, Julie wrote for the college newspaper and freelanced for the website College Candy. Since then she has worked as freelancer through Textbroker and has written press releases, feature pages, and other miscellaneous pieces for a software company. She enjoys writing both as a hobby and a career, and is always working on some kind of story.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Unless marked as a "Sponsored Deal," the opinions expressed here are those of the author and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the companies mentioned. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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3 comments
jimbo41144
One other option is to buy "international" editions of text books. They are essentially the same as "North American" editions. The difference is the preface may be longer or shorter, it is printed on thinner paper and is usually soft covered not hardback.

Search for international editions. The only time I almost got burned was when the instructor put "answer question xx on page yy" on the final. The questions were the same, but the preface was longer throwing off the page number. But it was easy enough to figure out which chapter it came from so problem solved.
sc122002
Another way I was able to get a textbook was that there were digital copies available of one in particular, but you had to access it via another campus library. Most colleges have access to this type of thing and can transfer them to the campus you need. I just put in the request and within a few days, I had access to the digital copy via my student portal for the entire term (if I remember right). I just printed out the chapters that I needed. I can get ink really cheaply for my printer so the cost wasn't all that much for me when I printed out copies.
sc122002
Another way around it that I discovered was buying used on half.com from a local seller so I'd have it asap. Then I'd resell the book for the same price (or a little more, depending on demand and how cheap I got the book), and I came out even. The student who bought from me was benefiting from the cheap textbook and I was benefiting by making my money back. This beats renting, tbh. The small downfall is that if the department ends up using a new edition the following year, you're kinda stuck, but that happened to me maybe twice.

Also, the library may allow you to check out the textbook for the entire term if it's not on reserve as per professor request or held by another student by the time you renew. At my school, we were allowed to renew 3 times during the quarter, which came out to the entire quarter. So I got lucky with a few classes and was able to use the book for free for the entire quarter which was a plus.
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