College is expensive – unfortunately, the costs only seem to increase. If you’re wondering, “why are textbooks so expensive?” trust us – you aren’t the only one.
Just like tuition, room and board, and all of the other expenses associated with going to college, textbook prices have risen dramatically in the last few years. Of course, various factors are involved with the hike in the textbook industry, but luckily, you don’t have to grit your teeth as you sign another check.
There are several ways you can save money on your textbooks and help keep your college costs down.
Why Are Textbooks So Expensive in the First Place?
Did you know that the average college student pays more than $662 per year on textbooks and other course materials? So the list price of one book can set you back hundreds (or potentially thousands) of dollars – and when it comes to faculty reading lists, there’s often no way around it. So you have to have that book.
But why is that book so darn expensive? There are several key reasons behind the excessive college textbook costs.
The price of college textbooks, like that of college tuition, has risen dramatically over the last few years. One of the biggest reasons for the sharp increase in the textbook market is the rise in publisher profits. Textbook companies derive a significant portion of their bottom line from textbook sales – the higher the sticker price on the book, the more profit they can make.
As more textbook publishers go out of business, a lack of competition makes the textbook market far less competitive. Without competition, publishing companies can get away with charging higher prices for their books because they are the only name in the game.
Plus, college students are a captive audience. As you likely already know, if you’ve ever taken a college course, you have to have certain books to take certain classes – often, you have to have specific limited-print editions that are scarce and hard to find. As a result, publishing companies know that they can quickly raise the price of these books without worrying about losing their sales to other competitors.
To make matters worse, some disciplines in which best practices and information are constantly changing. This is the most common in fields like science, technology, and medicine (humanities majors – you aren’t off the hook, but you might be able to save at least a little bit of money here).
These textbooks must be kept up to date, so new editions (read: more expensive) are constantly being released, with the previous edition becoming less useful. Publishers often make old editions outdated to force you to get the new book.
Although this keeps the information fresh and relevant, it unfortunately also gives publishing companies an excuse to charge more money (as if they needed another!).
Some books are bundled with ancillary materials that make them more expensive, such as CDs or access codes to various software bundles. Chances are, these add-ons will go unused – but they provide “value” and therefore fetch higher prices.
If you think you can count on your professor to weed out the unnecessary materials and only require you to purchase the essential textbooks, think again. Professors are often unaware of (or sometimes don’t care) the cost of the assigned books. They select books that, of course, align best with the material that they are teaching.
Ways to Save Money on Textbooks
Like everything in life, college textbooks don’t come free – nor do they come cheap. However, there are a few ways to save money on quality materials.
The simplest way to save money on college textbooks is to rent them. Many university students rent their own books out of a desire for simplicity and ease of access. When you rent a textbook, you don’t have to worry about anything besides ordering the book and sending it back when you’re done.
When you rent, you’ll be sent a book for a semester, and you’ll receive a hard deadline to return it once finals are over. Although you’ll still have to pay for the rental, the cost of renting a textbook is usually far less than what you would pay to purchase the book outright. There are tons of rental sites out there, too, such as Chegg Books and eCampus. You can also rent from college stores or a local bookstore.
The downside of renting is that you will be paying money with essentially no equity left at the end of the semester – it is similar to the concept of leasing a car. You’ll save money, but you won’t have anything to show for your money spent.
It’s also not ideal if you will need the textbook for future classes or in your career, and if you (dare we say it) don’t pass the course and need to take it all over again. Then, you’ll have to pay for the same book twice. So, even though textbooks are so expensive, consider the number of times you’ll need them while in school to avoid paying more than once.
Buy From the Used Book Market
An alternative to renting and beating the rising cost of higher education textbooks is to buy them used. Buying secondhand will almost always be cheaper than buying new at higher prices, although it’s worth digging to make sure you’re paying a fair price for the book’s condition.
There are all kinds of websites you can turn to if you want to buy secondhand textbooks, including Amazon, Chegg, and Bookfinder. You’ll be able to search for titles by the author, book name, or ISBN, often finding textbooks that are half the price of the original sticker price – sometimes, even more.
The beauty of buying used textbooks is that you can often resell them when you’re finished using them. So you’ll not only pay less money upfront, but you’ll be able to get some money back (or sometimes, even a little bit more, increasing your profit margins).
You will want to invest in books that are in decent condition, though, to do this. You should also do your best to keep your textbooks in proper condition so that you can sell them back for high prices later.
Bonus tip – many of the websites you can use to find deals on used textbooks are the same ones you can use if you want to resell your books. If you’re trying to scrounge up money for books next semester and have all of your old tomes lying around, this might be an excellent way to unload them, clear up space on your bookshelf, and make some extra cash, too.
Source Free Textbooks
Believe it or not, they aren’t unicorns – free textbooks exist. Some places offer textbooks utterly free of charge. Some websites you can look into include the Online Books Page, Open Book Project, and Project Gutenberg. All of these services offer thousands of digital textbooks utterly free of charge.
Unfortunately, as you might expect, the selection is not quite as expensive as you would hope. It’s worth your time investigating these sites, though, especially if you’re using standard textbooks required for many other courses.
You might want to check with your professor, but another good way to save money on textbooks is to see if you can use free online versions. There are open-source textbooks you can use or have cheaper virtual versions that you can tap into (virtual versions of books, or e-books, are often less expensive because the production costs are lower).
Another option is to take advantage of online resources like journal articles. Most journal articles and textbooks are part of Open Education Resources (OER) collections, making them free. But ensure your professors approve of any journal you want to use.
Don’t Be Afraid to Beg
If you have friends or family members that took a class you plan on enrolling in next semester, see if the textbook list is the same. You might be able to borrow or buy the book from them at a lowered price. On the other hand, suppose you don’t know anybody who took the class. In that case, it might help if you post an ad to search – some good places to advertise that you are looking for a specific title area are Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and your college bulletin boards (virtual and physical).
Chat Up Your Professor
Finally, don’t be afraid to get to know your professor – even before the class begins. Be tactful in how you do this, but feel free to send them an email asking about the book list. Believe it or not, many instructors will include titles on their required book list that they never even plan on using – they’re on there as a “just in case” situation.
If you take the time to explain your situation, you might find that you don’t even need to buy the book. Alternatively, your professor might tell you that the book is necessary to take the course – but that using an older version is perfectly acceptable. The bottom line? It’s always worth it to check. What do you have to lose?
Bonus tip: Find out if your university has an inclusive access program. The inclusive access program gives students access to digital learning resources at a highly reduced cost, on or before the first day of class.
Don’t Pay Full Price for Expensive Textbooks
You can’t do much to negotiate the price of college tuition, but there’s plenty you can do to lower your other expenses.
And no, that doesn’t mean you have to start living on a diet of Ramen noodles and tuna fish!
You need to be creative in other areas of your college budget – like when it comes to textbooks. Don’t be afraid to look for better, less expensive options. There are many ways to make books less expensive – you need to get creative.