Buyer’s Guide to College Textbooks on the Cheap

Affording College, Living & Spending
on August 8, 2014

Buyer's Guide to College Textbooks on the Cheap

The cost of attending college is already high, and textbook prices don’t help matters—a single book can often set you back more than $100, especially if you buy at the campus bookstore. However, with a little bit of effort and research, you can save big on books for the upcoming semester. Here, we share reviews of the most popular resources for cheap college textbooks online, plus tips for snagging the best book deals.


Unlike the other websites listed here, BIGWORDS doesn’t buy, sell or rent textbooks. Instead, its algorithm takes into account the item cost, shipping fees and any available coupons, then offers up the online retailer with the single lowest total price. You can customize the search results to include your Amazon free shipping, filter out instructor’s editions, ignore bad copies and sellers, and more. If you care about getting the best deal, even if it means buying each of your textbooks from a different seller, you should absolutely check out BIGWORDS.

Amazon began as an online bookstore, so it’s fitting that the site is a great resource for finding reasonable textbooks. When it comes to sheer number of options in one place, Amazon’s variety can’t be beat. Amazon often offers discounts on the brand new books in stock, and they also rent textbooks and host a Marketplace where you can buy used books directly from sellers. Plus, if you opt to join Amazon Student, you’ll get six months of free shipping on Amazon products, then pay the half the regular Amazon Prime price ($50/year instead of $100). Since most other retailers charge shipping fees, you’ll already save money upfront.

eCampus has been named the Readers Choice Award for “Best Website for Buying College Textbooks” two years in a row—a distinction that is probably due to unique features such as free shipping on orders over $69 (compared to CHegg’s $85) and a rewards program so you can rack up points in exchange for discounts. eCampus also offers a sell-back program that allows you to turn in old textbooks for cash or store credit. However, sell-back prices can sometimes be just a few dollars, so students might want to look into other options if they want to sell their old textbooks directly to a company.


Chegg, the #1 textbook rental company, also sells cheap textbooks in both physical and digital form. Chegg’s own e-textbook software allows you to seamlessly read and annotate your texts on any device that has an Internet connection, though the books aren’t available offline. For select physical textbooks (marked with a “Read While You Wait” icon), you’ll get free, instant access to the e-textbook version for seven days while you wait for the physical book to arrive. Sometimes Chegg can have truly great deals on rentals, but user reviews indicate that its customer service is often hit or miss. So if you’re uncertain about whether or not you want to keep said textbook, you might want to explore other websites and their return policies.

Buyer's Guide to College Textbooks on the Cheap

A subsidiary of eBay, makes it easy to compare offers from different sellers since it separates buying options by quality (like new, good, etc.) and then lists them in increasing order of price, offering the cheapest, best quality item at the top. As a bonus, you’ll also get discounted shipping if you buy multiple books from the same seller. The most unique aspect of is probably the “Match My Price” feature, which allows you to set minimum and maximum prices for an item. If a seller posts an item that matches your criteria, will automatically submit an order for it. also recently launched its own textbook rental service, but it’s a bit behind in the game compared to sites like Amazon and Chegg.


While not dedicated exclusively to textbooks, AbeBooks’ selection is increasing, and sometimes the discount can be considerable. The site essentially plays hosts to third party booksellers (both individuals and companies), so shipping prices and return policies often vary from seller to seller. Because it’s an international site, be sure to pay attention to shipping times if you need your book right away, as it could be coming from a different state or country. Don’t forget to read the fine print and make sure you’re getting the right edition (and not, say the instructor’s guide or international version if that won’t work for your class).


Compare prices on different websites.
Sure, we all love Amazon’s free shipping, but even such awesome features can’t guarantee that a single site will always have the best prices. Shop around or use BIGWORDS to find the best deal. This will take some time, but it will pay off — literally.

Avoid the campus bookstore at (almost) all costs.
Very rarely does the campus bookstore offer a price that is comparable to online retailers. While it may be more convenient to pick up a single box of books once you arrive on campus, that convenience will cost you extra. A lot extra. However, sometimes campus bookstores do have decent buy-back policies, so look into that and compare to online options before you buy.

Consider alternatives to buying physical textbooks.
Unless you must furiously highlight and annotate an actual textbook in order to remember anything about the lesser general of the Civil War, look into renting textbooks or buying e-textbooks. Both of these options could save you major cash, and some services do allow you to conservatively mark a rented book, so check their policies.

Wait to buy textbooks until you know you’ll keep the class.
If you’re uncertain about whether or not you’ll drop a class, try holding out on buying any necessary textbooks until you make a decision. Returning books can be a hassle, and it will take time to get your money back even if it goes smoothly, so save yourself the trouble and don’t buy until you decide.

Pay attention to independent booksellers’ customer satisfaction ratings.
Unless you want your book to mysteriously disappear off the FedEx plane like it just crossed over the Bermuda Triangle, it’s best to go with a third party seller who has high customer ratings, and lots of them. This indicates that the seller is reliable and has a reputation for truthfully living up to its item descriptions and delivery policy.

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