4 Ways to Save on College Textbooks + Textbook Websites To Avoid

Whether you’re a freshman in college or in your last year of grad school, chances are your heart nearly stopped when you saw the price of your course textbooks. But thanks to technological advances in today’s society, the options students have today compared to 10+ years ago when I was in school provide many ways to significantly reduce textbook expenses.

Below, you will find three ways to save big on textbooks and peruse a handful of websites you can check out. I checked their  Better Business Bureau  records and looked at online complaint boards, and I feel comfortable sharing them with you. I could not find a textbook company that was free from BBB complaints – they all had some. I looked at the volume and nature of complaints in order to make a decision about whether I’d share the brand with you. But as always, you should do your own due diligence.

#1: Buy Physical Books Online

This is probably the first idea that comes to mind for many of you, but you can indeed save considerably by purchasing your physical books online versus paying the high list price often seen in bookstores.

Furthermore, going this route often allows you to shop through cash back sites, such as  Mr. Rebates  and  Ebates, to earn a percentage of your purchase back. You can also use search engines like Google to search for discount coupon codes which are frequently available, especially around the start of a new semester.

The best way to be sure you’re getting the exact book you need is find out the ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, for each book on the book list. When Laura was in college, she would go to the campus bookstore a month or so before the semester started and write down the ISBN of each book she needed to purchase, then look those numbers up online to find the exact edition required. Since she was an English major and often had to purchase 20+ novels each semester, this was a great way to save.

Amazon.com & Free Shipping

The web’s top online retailer,  Amazon.com,  sells  new or used textbooks. You can find steep discounts on textbooks, plus, when you are finished with a textbook,  Amazon will buy it back,  giving you up to 60% back along with free return shipping. You will be paid the value you are owed back via an Amazon gift card.

Plus, purchase $25 or more in qualifying new textbooks by September 30, 2012 and you’ll get $5 in Amazon MP3 credit. You’ll receive the MP3 code via email once your order has shipped, limit 1 promotional code per customer.

You can save on shipping costs, both for textbooks and anything else you buy from Amazon, by signing up for a  free Amazon Student account. With it you get  six free months of Amazon Prime shipping benefits. This includes unlimited free two-day shipping on textbooks and millions of other items with no minimum purchase required. All you need to do is provide the name of your school and your major at sign up; you’ll need to use your .edu email address for verification.


Some people also have success with using Half.com (from eBay) to purchase textbooks. It’s easy to find your textbooks initially by searching by ISBN, then list and sell them back once you’re done.

#2: Rent Your Textbooks

Textbook rental is a particularly beneficial way to save on textbooks for some as you don’t have to worry about selling your textbooks when you are finished with them. Plus, shipping is often (if not always) free both ways – the books will be shipped to you free and you can return the books for free using a prepaid shipping label. You can save as much as 70-90% on your textbooks by renting them.

Below are a few websites you can check out that offer textbook rentals. I mention multiple sites because you may want to price compare a particular title between them to ensure you get the best value:

Sites like these allow you to choose how many days you would like to rent the book, most commonly using a period of 60, 90 or 130 days, though other durations may be available depending on the site.

#3: Use e-Textbooks

With the growing popularity of eBooks and electronic reading devices, a couple of popular companies have begun to offer electronic versions of textbooks, which you can download and read on your Kindle or even an iPhone or iPod Touch.


Amazon  has recently hopped on the bandwagon by offering  almost 30,000 eTextbooks  in its Kindle Store. The selection isn’t as broad as Barnes & Noble, but I anticipate it will expand in the near future. Though the books in the Kindle Store are intended to be read on a Kindle, you can download one of Amazon’s  free kindle reading apps  to read them on your iPhone, Windows PC, Mac, BlackBerry, iPad or Android.

Barnes & Noble

Last year,  Barnes & Noble  launched a  free NOOKstudy app  for PCs and Macs, which allows you to view eTextbook downloads on your computer. There are over 2.5 million eBooks and eTextbooks for you to choose from along with 1 million free eBooks. Plus, you can get a free 7-day trial of an eTextbook to see if this method is for you.


In addition to renting physical textbooks,  CengageBrain  has a selection of eTextbooks as well. The eBooks are read in their proprietary reader and, unless you are reading on an iPad, you have to be connected to the internet to read your book; their reading app for the iPad alllows for offline reading.


CourseSmart  is an  eTextbook rental service. You look up the title or ISBN of a book you want, then it gets added to your online bookshelf for the duration of your rental. You can read online using your computer or they have free apps for Android and Apple products; you can download books for offline reading as well. You can try this service before purchasing using their  free trial, which is a one chapter preview, for any title.

Also, in some cases college bookstores sell eTextbooks and students via  CourseSmart.com  with a redemption code to gain access to the book.

#4: Share Textbooks

If you happen to know someone who is studying in the same field as you, consider sharing textbooks with that person. It helps to find someone who is slightly ahead of you in school to ensure that you both don’t need the same textbook during the same term. You can even pay that person a discounted rate for his/her textbooks once he/she is finished and then pass them on to someone else or resell them when you’re finished.

It also can’t hurt to check the library (the campus library or even the local library) for other books you might need. They probably won’t have the standard classroom textbooks available to check out, but they may have novels and other texts you might need. Campus libraries often have free inter-library loan programs that will enable you to check out a book from a partner library, as well.

Textbook Sites to Avoid

The websites I shared above with you are only the ones I recommend for you to check out. But while researching a plethora of textbook sites, I found very poor online reviews and/or a huge number of Better Business Bureau (BBB) complaints – one of these companies had 373 BBB complaints in the last 3 years. Some are A+ rated by the BBB even with 85+ complaints, but I wouldn’t personally want to do business with a company that has so many registered complaints. I am only including the following list of websites so you know which ones I checked out, but would avoid:

  • BookByte.com
  • Chegg.com
  • CollegeBookRenter.com
  • eCampus.com
  • Textbooks.com

Your turn:Â  What other textbook saving tricks do you have up your sleeve?

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