I am not an expert when it comes to buying textbooks, but I do have a lot of experience buying them. Here’s what four years of it has taught me.

Textbooks can be a major expense in college, but with so many options available the old standby of buying books at the university or college bookstore doesn’t have to be the only way of finding books, and there are simple tips that can save you money.

Waiting vs. now

As most of the upperclassmen will tell you: Wait to buy your books.

Many professors will let you know on the first day of class whether all of the books listed for the course are actually required. Why buy a book you don’t need?

Also, often the professor will allow older editions. Most new editions only have minor changes with better illustrations and finding used copies can be harder.

Sometimes if you wait too long, all of the used copies will disappear off the bookshelves, leaving you with only new copies.

But don’t worry, the bookstore isn’t the only place you can go to get books.

Used vs. new

Buying books used will always save you money over the new price, but the problem with purchasing books in general is that there often isn’t a lot of return on it.

Yes, bookstores all offer a buy-back at the end of the semester, but most of the time the store only buys back a certain number at a much lower price than the purchase price.

If your class final is late into finals week, they may not be accepting any more of your class’ books by the time you’re done with them.

My first semester at ASU, I spent about $200 on books. At the end of the semester, I sold all but one book back to the ASU bookstore — for a total of $16.

The greatest thing — or the worst thing — about buying used is the highlighting. If the person before you highlighted sparingly, it can indicate important passages that will be discussed in class or included on the test.

If the person before you highlighted like a coloring book, it can make studying harder as you navigate the multicolored page.

There is something to be said for buying a textbook new: There is room in the margins for notes, there is no confusion over highlighting. The pages are clean, unwrinkled and free from unidentifiable stains.

Renting vs. buying

The farther along I got in college, the more I realized I wouldn’t actually use my old textbooks later on. This is why I turned to renting textbooks when I could. Although you don’t get any money back, rented textbooks nearly always cost less than used ones.

It didn’t make sense to have an introductory sociology book sitting on my bookshelf when I was studying journalism and English. I didn’t use it.

They can easily be rented for the length of the course. Most websites and stores offer seminar, quarter or semester lengths that fit any course.

The main problem with any book bought or rented online is that it takes time for the books to arrive. If you have assignments right away, there is potential for problems.

If I could go back, I would rent all of my general education course textbooks. You don’t have to go through the hassle of trying to sell them and you don’t have to worry about packing them up when you move or taking up space at home.


I should preface this section with an acknowledgement that I only once used an e-book. It was the format encouraged for my digital media class. However, I do wish I had more classes that allowed for the chance to use them.

These are usually the cheapest textbook form, and it can be instantly downloaded.

This option is easier to carry around than a bulky textbook. A lot of students are already toting laptops, e-readers, tablets and smart phones. Highlighting and notes are still an option. Printing out pages can be annoying, but it’s doable.

There are a lot of choices out there for textbooks.

Obviously, Kindle (Amazon) and Nook (Barnes and Noble) offer free apps for tablets and smart phones if students don’t own the reader itself.

Kno.com offers access to e-textbooks online through its website or through Internet-enabled devices such as smart phones and tablets. To access books, students don’t need to download software or books to computers; it is accessed from the browser. Unfortunately, that also means without Internet access, books can’t be accessed on laptops.

Search engines

Thankfully, in the last few years websites have popped up that allow students looking for the best price online to instantly compare competing companies’ prices.

Affordabook.com finds the cheapest options online. It lists the price of the book, the cost of shipping and the total amount with a link to “rent it” or “buy it.”

Cheapesttextbook.com breaks down the prices into categories such as new and used, used and rental by term length. It also lists the price, shipping price and total purchase price. If you know you want to acquire the book in a particular way, this is a great option.

Beat the system

I always got frustrated when I had to buy a book and return it and then my friend did the exact same thing the next semester. Instead, I started trading and selling old textbooks with classmates and friends. That way, we both save money.

If your friends are taking the same courses or have the same major, this is really simple. It saves you money and it saves them money. (And the bookstore doesn’t make any more additional money.)

Buy local

There are a number of local bookstores that compete with the university bookstore.

By buying locally, money spent at these stores stays in Arizona and prices are competitive.

Often after the ASU Bookstore has run out of used copies, these stores still have them. The College Store at 1015 S. Rural Road and Student Book Center at 704 S. College Ave. are right across the street from the Tempe campus and provide an alternative to the ASU Bookstore.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-5645 or sspring@evtrib.com

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