Stick it to the Campus Bookstore

Textbook CostsIt’s becoming harder and harder for students to keep costs down. Tuition increases steadily each year at about a 7% clip and textbooks aren’t getting any cheaper either. On top of that, it seems that publishers release a new edition every year or every other year, sometimes only changing the practice problems at the end of each chapter or rearranging the order of the chapters. But don’t worry, they reassure us it isn’t about money…

So what are you going to do? You’re gonna stick it to them. Here are some things I did that served me well when I was a student:

Ask a friend

You would be amazed at how many people don’t sell their textbooks back. They were either too late to sell back to the bookstore, they forgot about it, were too lazy, or somehow think they will ever read them again (something my wife and I argued about often, but she was persuasive enough to convince me she will). Ask your friends if they have taken the classes you are taking. Offer a little bit of cash so as not to be THAT guy or gal. I always offered, but my offer was always turned down and I got it for free. Just don’t get all huffy if they actually take your offer. Again, no one likes freeloaders.

Go online

Peeps, meet Amazon. Amazon, meet my peeps. Watch for your booklist for the coming semester on your school’s website. It should be a month or two before it starts. As soon as you have it, take the ISBN and go crazy. Websites I liked to use for price comparison are Amazon, AbeBooks, Alibris,, and Better World Books. I particularly like that last one because they don’t charge shipping (unless you want to pay a few cents for lower carbon shipping), and they are a non-profit. So they get donated books from all over the world and re-sell them and the money goes to promote worldwide literacy. As a book lover, I dig it. So if I found the same book on different sites and the Better World Books was only a little bit more than the cheapest site, I went with that one. Literacy can change the world, my friends. So check it out! Some universities have a book exchange site for students to use too, so see if that applies to you.

Back to going crazy on the internet, I used a pretty ghetto spreadsheet to track the cost of each book on each website, so I could decide which one would be best. Do it whichever way works best, but don’t let laziness eat your hard-earned (via your parents or student loans) cash. The process usually took me a couple of hours total and I would often save a couple or a few hundred dollars. So unless your time is worth more than $100/hour, you should be doing this.

Go international

In some textbooks, publishers will publish an international version and change a tiny bit of the content to cater to international audiences. When I first saw these versions popping up, I was a little hesitant to use them. I had a couple of friends buy some, though, and the differences were minute – either a page numbering thing or different questions in the back of the chapter. Those are completely manageable, though. Especially when the international version costs a fraction of the “official” textbook. How do you make sure you’re with the rest of the class with your different version? Just find some schlub who paid for the regular version and become BFF’s. I was that schlub one semester, before I wisened up. I spent five or so minutes every other day taking pictures of the question section of each chapter and emailing them to my friend. Moral of the story? Being a little bit “safer” with the correct material isn’t worth the money you pay for it.

Sell your textbook back

Again, if you think you’re ever going to read that Economics textbook again because you never actually read it during the semester, but the information is valuable, just ask yourself this: If I’m not reading it now, what makes me think I will when I have a career and even less time to read it along with infinitely more interesting things to with my time? If you do the assigned readings, I commend you for being a good student. But I still think you’re full of it. Unless the information is practical and really could be useful in your profession (like my wife, who is a teacher), you’re just going to end up tossing them.

So now that I’ve convinced you to sell, who do you sell to? For the sake of simplicity, I would usually only take the bookstore buyback price and Amazon’s lowest price for the book. Some bookstores won’t buy a book back if they didn’t sell it to you, but a lot do, so take advantage of it! I sold a lot of books back to my university bookstore for more than what I paid on Amazon. Talk about sticking it to the system 🙂 The reason I use Amazon for selling is mainly due to simplicity. You can easily set up a seller account and list your books. When someone buys one, you get an email and a prompt to log in to get the packing slip and ship it. After it’s been shipped, you can go into your account and request disbursement of your funds to a bank account you’ve entered in. (They do charge a commission, but that’s never deterred me.)

Pretty awesome.

So one question I’ve gotten is are rentals worth it? Well, that depends. There’s a little risk involved with it, because you could buy and sell back for more than you bought it, but that depends on demand, new versions, the price of rice in China, and whether or not Congress is in session (which screws everybody’s life up). So if you can’t stomach all of that, the rental could be the way to go. But if you have just a little entrepreneurial spirit in you, take the risk 🙂

I just want to say I love you guys. I don’t want you pay more than you have to for something you don’t have much of a choice about. Let me know of any awesome successes you’ve had with sticking it to the system. I’d love to hear them!


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