Textbooks: Renting, Buying or E-books?
You’ve managed to snag all the classes you want this semester, but you weren’t thinking about the textbook tally when you did that. Now, armed only with ISBNs and the Internet, it’s time to find them all and get the best student deal on textbooks. How should you proceed: rent books, buy books or download e-books? The answer lies mostly in what’s best for your bank account and partly in what’s best for studying.
I approach textbook buying each semester with great zeal — much like if Indiana Jones were an accountant. I use Bookfinder to dig for deals (it’s comprehensive and objective) and a SpreadSheet to compare university bookstore textbook prices with various sites (combined shipping can save you a few dollars). Then I buy, navigating to book-seller and -rental sites using StudentUniverse’s book deals.
By putting 45 minutes into research and tabulations, I saved $110 on what would have been a $254 textbook tab for the coming term. Then I got cash back (up to 19%!) per purchase from Student Universe that’s now in my account for my next trip. I’d call that 45 minutes well spent.
Here’s a look at the options.
Advantages: Renting textbooks can get you a discount up front. You’re guaranteed a textbook in good shape.
Disadvantages: There’s nothing for your bank account at the end, although some websites, such as www.bookbyte.com, will send you a rebate of 10 percent for an on-time, clean-condition return. You have to send it back pretty much as you got it — no all-nighter coffee spills, or you’ll have to pay the sticker price. So much for getting a student deal.
Verdict: Rent textbooks if your No. 1 goal is to save up front, and only if renting provides the steepest savings. You can also get cash back from several book-rental sites.
Buying new textbooks
Advantages: You have the option to own a book that may come in handy down the line. Buying new textbooks means you don’t have to read around a previous owner’s notes or highlights. Keep it nice, and you you can snag a nice re-sell price.
Disadvantages: This can be super-hard on the student bank account. That aforementioned $254 is for a 6-credit summer semester, and I’m not in an expensive-textbook-intensive major, such as engineering or a science. Buying new textbooks is also not so kind for the environment (better to reduce, reuse, recycle, right?).
Verdict: Unless buying new is the only option, I’d avoid it. If your college or university bookstore hasn’t produced a school-specific version (some schools are doing this to force you to buy from their bookstores), then you’re free to look around for the best deals and discounts — do so.
Buying used textbooks
Advantages: Generally, the deepest discount. You get to own a book that you may be able to use as reference material for later courses. Re-selling is still an option — you might even get close to what you paid. Kind to the environment. Many textbook resellers are smaller businesses, individuals or even charities — putting money in the hands of these folks can provide a modicum of satisfaction.
Disadvantages: Do you know the difference between “good,” “fair” and “acceptable”? I sure don’t. I’ve bought books listed as all three, and haven’t found much in the way of consistency. You don’t know what shape a used textbook is going to be in until it arrives on your doorstep. So you might be trying to read around the highlighting of someone who thought EVERYTHING was important … or through splotches of mysterious origin.
Verdict: Bias alert: I love the deals I get on used books and am willing to put up with just about anything to save money on textbooks. Over one-and-a-half college degrees, I’ve bought maybe one used book that had pages falling out and, therefore, annoyed me. But because I can often re-sell a used textbook at a higher percentage of the price I paid than with a new book, I recommend buying used textbooks — particularly when so many used-book sellers will give you cash for travel.
Advantages: Instant gratification. Less expensive than buying new, physical books — occasionally less than renting or used. Awesome for the environment. Extremely portable, as e-books weigh only as much as your e-reader or tablet. Can be accessed a variety of ways; in addition to e-readers, you can download apps for tablets, laptops or desktops. Apps let you highlight and export notes with citation information, so you can plop them right into any paper you might be writing. A chance to own a book long-term.
Disadvantages: Limited availability. Can be difficult to read if you don’t have access to an app version because, say, you couldn’t take your desktop home for the weekend, or if there are lots of charts, graphs and illustrations in the textbook. There’s no ability to re-sell.
Verdict: I travel internationally about 9 times a year, and every textbook I have to carry is another step closer to the over-limit baggage fee — approximately one semester’s textbook tab these days. If you travel often or commute to school, you don’t want to be lugging textbooks if you don’t have to. Every e-book purchase means less back strain. I look at e-books as a treat: If I’ve freed up money in the budget by being frugal with the textbooks available only physically, I’ll download an e-book or two, even though I’ll get nothing for it later.
A Final Tip
Look at textbooks as an investment for your education and your wallet. Ask about the textbook sell-back pricing your school’s bookstore uses (25 percent? 10 percent?). Also, have a look at the going price on Half.com and at Amazon.com’s trade-in feature.
You can’t know exactly what Amazon will be willing to pay you at the end of the semester — or even if it will — but you can get an idea of what you’ll be able to fetch for little effort and waiting, in the form of a Amazon credit. Same goes for Half.com — if you’re willing to wait for a return on your investment, you can probably get a good chunk of your money back, less PayPal fees.
You can always apply what you get back one semester to buying textbooks for the next semester, which keeps increasing your savings. More money in your wallet or student bank account means more money for fun. There’s no reason to over-spend on textbooks when you could be using your money for other great student deals or earning cash back for student travel.
StudentUniverse. Smart deals for students.
StudentUniverse began in 2000 and is now one of the largest Student Deals website in the U.S. and provides outstanding deals to students all over the world! We want students to be able to travel and explore the world without breaking the bank. We also want to help students find great deals at their favorite stores as well as earn cash back on purchases at stores such as Forever 21, Target, Apple and so many more!
StudentUniverse also supplies students with great information when it comes to studying abroad or simply traveling around the world. Our website offers travel guides that provide students with a wealth of information surrounding topics such as top countries around the world, things to know and do, as well as where to shop and dine!
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