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Students can hold down the cost of buying textbooks by shopping for them online.
As July melted into August, college towns around the country began to swell with incoming freshmen, returning students and faculty, and campus bookstores began to stock their shelves with textbooks. Expensive textbooks. Textbooks that cost each student an average of $1,168 a year, according to the College Board. Luckily for students already on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, brick-and-mortar stores no longer have a monopoly in this market. Just this week Amazon, which already has a Kindle textbook rental service, joined the ranks of Web sites renting out regular textbooks at steep discounts. Skip the long lines and save some money by renting or buying required texts online.
Below are Cheapism’s top Web sites for buying or renting affordable textbooks.
- BookRenter.com specializes in textbook rentals but also peddles new and used books sold by third parties. The site woos students with free shipping both ways on rentals and promises those looking to sell their books at the end of the semester a 12 percent bonus if they accept BookRenter.com credit instead of cash. (Where to buy)
- Textbooks.com offers new and used books, textbook rentals, a limited selection of ebooks and book buyback (for at least half the original price, plus 10 percent extra if the book came from Textbooks.com). Students posting reviews online call the site dependable and appreciate the wide selection. Orders over $25 ship free. (Where to buy)
- Chegg.com emphasizes its rental service but also offers new and used books and recently launched an etextbook reader for computers and iPads. Students posting reviews generally praise the prices and report that the site promptly delivers books in good condition. (Where to buy)
- TextbooksRus.com manages to offer new textbooks more cheaply than other online vendors by selling less expensive international editions, which students say sometimes differ from the U.S. editions in content and pagination. The site also rents and buys textbooks. Shipping is free for rental, buyback, and orders over $25. (Where to buy)
No textbook Web site escapes sharp criticism from reviewers, especially those dealing with third-party sellers, but all the sites on the list above claim plenty of satisfied customers. They promise to save students 40 percent to 90 percent off campus bookstore prices. Students who hope to sell a book back after a class ends should be sure to take it easy on the highlighting and not make too many notes in the margins. Wear and tear can also disqualify a book from buyback.
Of course, the surest way to minimize the amount of money you lose on textbooks is to avoid buying them altogether. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that seven out of 10 students have opted not to buy a textbook because it was too expensive, according to a 2011 survey by the nonprofit U.S. Public Interest Research Group. Many students still manage to keep up by taking advantage of textbooks their university libraries hold in reserve for students to use for a few hours at a time. That strategy certainly doesn’t suit every course and works best if you stay ahead of schedule on the required reading. If you wait until the last minute, you may find that a book is in use when you need it. And good luck getting your hands on a copy during finals week.