Both students and their parents benefit from finding ways to save on textbook costs, but it takes more than walking into your college campus bookstore, finding the course list for required texts, and picking them up. College students today also have to be savvy shoppers.
The cost of textbooks for college students is about 4% of the total cost of college, but let’s consider that figure. As college costs rise so do textbook costs. 4% of $50,000 is $2,000. 4% of $30,000 is $1,200. 4% of $10,000 is $400. These are all chunks of change, representing costs from the most expensive private colleges to the least expensive among public universities. So how can you save on textbook costs?
Know how you can be taken advantage of:
Textbook publishers want to make money. They can do it two ways on the college market:
- Increasing the prices of a text by re-issuing it as new edition year after year. The new issue may not be significantly better in quality but it probably has the bigger price tag. Note that new editions also drive down the re-sale value of the previous edition.
- Bundling textbooks, or including media packages (i.e. CDs or DVDs) which are really extraneous. You can’t buy the required text at a lesser price as a single book.
Understand how the faculty can cost you money:
Faculty are sensitive to students’ costs and want to save their students money. However, there are two things that can make faculty complicit in the higher costs of textbooks:
- Faculty are motivated to include materials and to watch for titles relevant to their course, not compare costs. They are also rather unaware of the differences between a new edition and an old one, not always comparing them to make sure the more expensive new edition offers more quality than the old. They are the middlemen, not the front-line shoppers.
- Faculty do not always provide their textbook lists in a timely way. As they think over the summer and come up with new ideas or want to change a course text, they inadvertently squeeze students on time, giving them less chance to do some real shopping around and price comparing.
Be aware of laws that help you:
There are Student Public Interest Groups that have already lobbied states to set laws that will help students save on textbooks. Some states have actually passed these laws which are called textbook-affordability laws. The laws are aimed at both publishers and college campuses to make texts less expensive at the college level. These state laws have influenced federal law, and taking effect July 1, 2010, is the New Textbook-Affordability Law that was enacted as part of the 2008 re-authorization of the Higher Education Act.
- On campus the law requires that course text lists are available to students at preregistration time. There are no penalties for non-compliance, but there will be a U.S. Government Accountability Office compliance report due July 1, 2013. At least this requisite helps with large courses of over 50 students in which one or two more costly texts are required. In courses where there are several novels on a course list, there may be some changes after preregistration, but those books are usually much more available and less expensive.
- Publishers also have to comply. They must tell college bookstores ahead of time what the charges for all textbooks are, must unbundle textbooks, and must provide descriptions of how a new edition differs from the last edition.
These laws have been enacted to provide more transparency and more time to allow students full opportunity to shop wisely for savings.
Know how to shop:
How can you shop better to save on textbooks? Here are some general tips that take you outside the more-or-less set costs of the campus book store. With an early text requirement list, you have some time to check these options out.
- You can shop publisher websites. Sometimes they have used books, older editions, or paperbacks that costless.
- You can also shop online warehouse sites such as Phat Campusor eCampus.com where you can save up to 50% off campus bookstore prices and buy used versions of your textbooks.
- Don’t forget that you can comparison shop and find deals on texts. Shop Amazon, Craigslist, and eBay.
- Download texts or use eBooks when possible. Both cost less.
- Rent college texts online and save up to 80% on your textbooks.
- CD and DVD versions are about 50% less expensive than texts.
- Buy used books from last years’ students, at the campus bookstore or online.
- Think about borrowing texts from friends or from the local or campus libraries.
- Share texts for half the cost.
- Buy out of crunch times for better deals. December and August are months just ahead of the mad rush for college texts.
- Don’t forget to sell your texts at the end of your course to recoup some of the costs.
Textbooks are expensive and are not the kind of book you will want to keep for a long time. They are a need, but not a life-time treasure. Therefore, they should not be too expensive. If you are savvy and can shop wisely, they need not be.