Beyond the bookstore: The quest for cheaper textbooks

Every semester students fight lines at the bookstore and give their arm- — and often a leg if you’re a STEM major -— for their textbooks. The College Board estimates that the average student spends around $1,200 a year on books and supplies. A single book can cost as much as $200. Many students can relate to having a class that requires an expensive textbook but a professor who never actually uses it.

With a new semester beginning, students are looking once again to get their textbooks without losing a few limbs over it. Students have Facebook pages where they pawn off their books to each other, but is this really the best place to get your books? Not only do you have to hope other students are selling the specific books and editions that you need, you also need to compete with other students for them. Some students illegally download or torrent their books, but then you are faced with the legality of it, along with hoping the book is actually available online.

So now students are left with the options of buying or renting the books from a store. Begin by looking to rent. Rental prices are generally one third to half of a book’s list price, which might be appealing unless the book is one you want to keep for reference. Amazon, the school bookstore and hundreds of websites will rent out books to students for just the duration of the semester and can save them hundreds of dollars. A lot of renters will even let you write and highlight in the book. Just be sure to take care of these books, otherwise students will end up paying for them.

If you’re looking to buy a book and it isn’t being sold on a local Facebook or Craigslist page, then it’s time to reach out to other sites. Amazon offers a Prime membership to college students, which will save students on shipping and can often get better deals. Be aware that buying textbooks from the school bookstore could include a markup because part of the payment goes to the school.

Are students always going to have to go through this each and every semester to attain their books? According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, in 2011, seven in 10 students said they had not purchased a textbook at least once because they had found the price too high.

Taylor Nelson, a junior at Florida Gulf Coast University studying community health, said “I have boycotted buying books for classes … I find that I either don’t need them or they are way too expensive. I think books are way too out of the price range for students who are on their own and are expected to pay ridiculously high prices for dorm living, tuition and books.”

Nelson isn’t the only one who feels this way, and it isn’t only FGCU students facing this problem.  Felicia Sobieski, a freshman studying communication at the University of Florida agrees with Nelson.

“Certain textbooks are way too expensive,” Sobieski said. “I think books are an important aspect of learning, but now they are not as necessary with technology and the Internet. I did not buy my math book this year because it was too expensive and I just shared with my roommate.”

There are also FGCU students such as Ashley Waskiewicz, a senior studying criminal justice and legal studies, who make sure to get every book, with the fear of being unprepared. Waskiewicz says she thinks that everything will go digital as more and more professors are using downloadable texts.

This semester, make sure to actively shop for your textbooks. Look around for the best prices and weigh the pros and cons of renting or buying. Don’t forget to ask professors if you really need the textbook. Purchasing used textbooks is almost always going to be the cheapest route. Professors, pay attention to the cost of your textbooks. Make textbook choices early and stick to the same edition for multiple years in order to allow your students to buy and sell them from each other.

Happy hunting, and may the prices be ever in your favor.