Tips to Save on Textbooks

Last updated: 7/23/2013

Even though students are stuck paying publishers' outrageous prices, you do have a few tools to reduce how much you spend.  Being a smart consumer could save you hundreds of dollars every year.  Follow these tips to save on textbooks!

1. Gather the right info. Before you start, here's the information you'll need to make sure you get the right book:

  • The ISBN, which is a unique number that goes to each book
  • Title, Author, Publisher & Edition 
  • Any supplements included, and if they are required (ask your prof)

2. Shop for used and new books online. Shopping online gives you a greater selection, which usually means lower prices. Search by ISBN to make sure you get the right book, but also search by title, author, etc. to find unbundled versions and older editions. Just make sure your prof is OK with that first.  There is a ton of textbook retailers online, so a simple search will give you plenty of options.  Just remember to leave time for shipping! Here are some places to get started: 

Pro Tip: Sometimes you can find "international editions" of the same book printed for other countries at way cheaper prices.  Try searching the international arms of the websites above (like or price comparison sites. Just beware that there might be differences in the text if it has a different ISBN.

3. Rent textbooks on campus or online. Renting textbooks is probably your best bet if you don't plan to keep the book at the end of the term. Some schools offer local rental programs (click here for our guide to setting one up), but don't worry if yours doesn't - you can rent textbooks online!  Just keep in mind that you'll be charged fees if you don't send it back, and if you're taking a multi-semester course, you're probably better off buying.

4. Swap books with other students. Save money by cutting out the middle man - find other students who have your book! With common classes, you can often find books by just asking around. Here are some other ideas if that doesn't work:

  • Try searching for postings on Facebook or Craigslist.
  • Check with your campus bookstore or student government for a local bookswap.

5. Buy e-textbook subscriptions. Don't mind reading on a computer screen? Don't plan to keep the book?  Got a high-tech tablet like iPad or Kindle? Then see if your textbook comes as an e-textbook!

Buyer beware! Our study on digital textbooks found that e-textbooks had major drawbacks for a lot of students. Before you buy, here's what you need to know: The average cost is 50% of a new book, which isn't always a good deal compared to used books or renting. E-textbooks typically expire after 180 days, so think of them as "digital rentals. Make sure to read the fine print for limits on printing and offline access.

6. Look for coupon codes. Many websites offer special deals and coupon codes that can save you 10% or more.  Try coupon websites like or cash back sites like  Also watch the Twitter and Facebook feeds of textbook retailers. 

7. Compare with the bookstore. If you're buying books last minute, you may not have much of a choice. But even if you have other options, make sure to see what the bookstores has to offer. Here are some basic bookstore numbers to keep in mind:

  • Used books are typically 75% of the new price - we've found this to be higher than online prices, but more consistent.
  • If a book is being used again next term, the bookstore will usually buy it back for 50% of the new price.
  • If the bookstore doesn't know whether the book is being used again next semester, they will buy books back for 10-30% of the new price... sometimes less.

8. Save your receipts. A $2,500 federal tax credit is available to some students for their textbook purchases and other qualifying higher education expenses.  Click here for more information about the American Opportunity Tax Credit.

9. If you're really stuck.  If you can't find your textbook at a price you can afford, don't give up on doing well in the class. Here are some ideas:

  • Check the library. Some schools put copies of textbooks on reserve, and if you're lucky, you might get to check out a copy.
  • Ask your prof to borrow a copy. Most professors receive at least one sample copy of the textbook.
  • Buy an older edition (which are usually dirt cheap) and get the new book's page numbers and workbook questions from a friend.

10. Advocate affordable alternatives. Finally, the only way to change textbook prices in the long run is to get the word out about less expensive textbooks.  Free online "open textbooks" are available in dozens of common subjects. Make sure to let your professors know!

  • Tell professors about the Open Textbook Catalog, which lists over 100 free open textbooks.
  • Watch this video to learn about why open education matters.
  • Check out our toolkit for running an open textbooks campaign on your campus

END-OF-SCHOOL SPECIAL: How to survive textbook buyback

Have you ever gotten pennies back for a used book you bought for hundreds?  Well, you're not alone.  Textbook buyback can be one of the most frustrating experiences of the semester, so we put together some special tips to help students get through textbook buyback...  So, before braving the line at the bookstore, make sure to check out our 5 Tips to Help College Students Get the Most Bang For Their Used Books.