Research shows textbook prices have increased at four times the rate of inflation since 2006, with no end in sight. It's no secret students are turning to alternative methods for cheap college textbooks. But how many upperclassmen teach Cheap Textbooks 101 to incoming freshmen?
With back-to-college quickly approaching, learning the ins and outs of sharing, borrowing, renting and buying used textbooks is a valuable lesson.
Here's everything you need to know -- or at least 12 really good tips -- to help you save money on textbooks.
1. Wait Until After the First Day
Professors may list a specific textbook on their syllabus and then never refer to it again. Wait until you've had a chance to talk with the prof before shelling out big bucks for what may turn into a bookshelf ornament.
2. Join a Campus Facebook Group
Your fellow classmates sympathize with your textbook dilemma. Join a campus Facebook group to find out who might have a book you need, and ask to buy, rent or borrow that book. Be sure to return the favor by letting the group know which texts you're willing to lend.
3. Use Open Source Textbooks
This movement, led by the co-founder of Sun Microsystems, applies the open-source mantra of the software world to textbooks. Progress is slow, but sites like FlatWorld Knowledge are steadily growing. You can either download a text for free or buy a printed and bound version for $20 to $40.
4. Rent your textbooks.
With so many companies offering textbook rentals, it's best to consult a comparison-shopping site like BigWords.com first. You can instantly find which e-retailer has the best rental prices and terms. You can also check out Consumer Affairs' roundup of top-rated textbook rental companies based on student feedback. And of course, don't forget to look for coupon codes for extra savings! For example, you can currently take $5 off orders of $100 with an eCampus promo code.
5. Download Free Books
Google Books has scanned many texts into its database, although you may not find what you need. Project Gutenberg also has scanned in a lot of free-domain books that English majors will find useful. The process can be hit or miss, but both sites are worth checking out.
6. Purchase the International Edition
Take advantage of a well kept secret: International editions are usually significantly cheaper than the U.S. versions. (Just like medications.) There may be some slight changes, like paperbacks instead of hardcover, or simply cosmetic, like black and white illustrations instead of color. You'll need an ISBN number to find the correct textbooks online on AbeBooks.com.
7. Borrow A Sample Copy
Just like doctors, profs often receive several samples from sales representatives, which tend to lay around their offices gathering dust. Cozy up to your instructor to see if you might glom on to one of those freebies, which you'll return at the end of the semester, of course.
8. Use the Library
Here's a no-brainer that goes back to the days when libraries were invented. But you have to get there early as it's first come, first served. Some college libraries allow you to take out textbooks for an entire semester while others require you use them in-house. It depends on whether you think saving the money is worth the hassle.
9. Put Up With Advertising
Textbook Media hooks advertisers up with students by planting ad copy betwixt the stuff you have to read throughout the semester. Fill out a short survey and advertisements tailored for you are placed within the textbook. Then you just download the mash-up and pay a nominal fee.
10. Save with Amazon
Amazon: your source for everything...everything...has long sold, bought and rented textbooks. Current students with a valid .edu email address are eligible to receive a free six-month trial of Amazon Student, which includes free two-day shipping, exclusive deals, and thousands of streaming video titles.
11. Share and Share Alike
It takes some coordinating, but if your friends are organized it's possible to share textbooks and split the cost. This also works well with study groups. Just make sure everyone kicks in their fair share before you put cash on the line.
12. Use Craigslist
In college towns, Craigslist is an easy way to connect with students in the same major. Since many professors recycle the same reading list year after year, you may be able to find everything you need in a single sale at a fraction of the retail price.