Digital textbooks will save you money and other nonsense
I didn’t say anything at the time, but I was reading the posts from all the major tech blogs and I was wondering why I was the only who remembered my college years. I’d always gotten a better deal than offered by the college bookstores, digital bookstores, or anyone. Most all of the articles on renting and buying digital textbooks looked at the cost as it compares to the retail price.
Hah. I very rarely paid retail for my textbooks. To put it simply, the best option for students is to buy a used paper copy in good condition and then sell it again.
The reality of digital textbooks: Amazon might sell you a digital textbook for 60% of retail, but since you can’t sell that textbook again you are stuck with that full price. If you buy a paper textbook you can often times get a much better deal because you can sell it again and recoup at least part of the cost.
My usual final cost for a paper textbook averaged less than 20% of retail. That is, I’d buy a book at the beginning of the semester and sell it at the end. The difference between the prices was a lot smaller than most people realize, and there were even a couple semesters where I made money.
Yep, I could usually use a textbook (for one or more semesters) for only 20% of retail. That is the reason why I looked at the prices offered by Amazon for digital textbooks and wondered why anyone would throw their money away.
Let me give you some of the ways I managed to spend so little. It took a small amount of work but it wasn’t that difficult.
- Buy low and sell high – I found the best places to buy my textbooks online and I also found the best places to sell them. The prices of textbooks varied from one market to the next (websites, college bookstore, etc), and I used that market variation to buy low and sell high. (Isn’t market capitalism grand?)
- The best time to sell and buy – I also picked the times that I bought and sold textbooks quite carefully. The best online prices for buying a textbook were usually found during the last month before a semester began. This was also the worst time to sell a textbook.
- Buy and sell in 2 or more different markets – The best place to buy a textbook is rarely the best place to sell it. You want to buy in a market where there are a lot of sellers competing to for your purchase; this will drive the price down. And you want to sell your textbook where and when you don’t have a lot of sellers to compete with; this gives you a chance to get the best price for your textbook.
So where’s the best place? Well, I’m hesitant to recommend my preferred sites. It’s been years since I used them and you might be able to find a better deal by pairing 2 other retail sites. With that in mind, I found my best deals by buying on Half.com and selling the textbook to the college bookstore.
But when it comes to finding the best deal, that I can help you with. First, you’ll need to have a number of different websites open in your browser:
- your college bookstore
- 1 or more textbook rental websites (chegg, etc)
You need your college bookstore so you can find the ISBNs for your textbooks. Then you take the ISBNs to the second website and find which site offers the best price. Go to the site that offers the best price and see if it offers a better deal directly on the site.
- You want to look for a used book in good enough condition that you can sell it back to the college bookstore. Generally, "like new" textbooks have been the best value for me. Few will have a used sticker on them.
- Avoid textbooks with used stickers if you can. That cuts the resale value in half at most college bookstores.
I’m also pointing you at the textbook rental sites because they might offer a better deal. I don’t know; I never had the opportunity to use them. But I will point out that there’s also a downside to renting; you’re forced to return the book after a finite amount of time. If you bought the book you don’t have to sell it immediately after this semester ends; you could hold on to it and use it for your next class (Calculus 1,2,3 all used the same textbook at my school).
Most of the time I took the lazy-man’s approach to selling. If my college bookstore offered to buy a textbook for a price within $10 of what I could get online, I usually took them up on it. It saved me the hassle of shipping and waiting to get paid. Plus I got paid in cash.
So there you have it. This may not be the best way to buy and sell textbooks, but it’s what worked for me.
image by pmccormi