The Best and Cheapest Ways to Buy Textbooks Online

Smiling girl on computer with booksWhen you’re figuring out your back-to-school budget, you’ll definitely remember the big things: tuition, housing fees, maybe a meal plan. But many students forget to account for another huge expense: their textbook costs. Even though publishers now must clearly state to professors just how much their books cost and sell pricey bundled materials separately, the books you’ll need for class will still cost you a pretty penny: The average student spends a whopping $700 to $1,000 on books each year!

Fortunately, there are a number of alternatives to buying textbooks at retail price. We’ll walk you through them, so you can find the best deals for your books and start your school year with savings rather than sticker shock.

Plan Ahead

Before you buy your books, here are a few tips that will get you started.

1. Get the List

If you want your books for the first day of class, get your classes' syllabi as soon as possible. Don’t be afraid to email your professor and ask for the reading list early. Be sure to not only get the texts’ titles, but also their ISBN and editions, so you can make sure you’re getting the right copy.

2. Compare Costs

There are a lot of places to buy discounted textbooks—it’s just a matter of finding the cheapest and most convenient options. Search for your readings on Textbookprices.com, CampusBooks.com or DealOz, which list prices for new, used, rental and electronic books, and figure out which will work best for you.

3. Hunt for Coupons

Once you find cheaper books, you can lower the price even further with coupons and discount codes. Try PromoCodes.com, RetailMeNot.com and CouponCabin; all three websites list deals from textbook retail and renting websites.

Get Your Books

You have the syllabus, you compared prices, you found coupons. Now that you’re prepared, don’t go to the bookstore—take your pick from these budget-saving alternatives.

Website Product Price Availability Necessary equipment
Free books Google Books Searchable digitized textbooks Free Limited: Not all texts can be fully viewed Computer
Project Gutenberg Out-of-copyright books from the public domain Free Limited Computer
eBooks ManyBooks Books available for download in different formats Free Limited Your choice of eReader
CourseSmart eTextbooks, with highlighting and annotating capabilities As low as 60% of retail price Good: More than 7,000 eTexts, available for limited period of time Computer or handheld device. eReader, tablet, iPod or mp3 player, phone.
CafeScribe eTextbooks, as well as a "Try Now, Buy Later" program if you're not yet sure if you'll like using an eBook Free to try for 3 days; eBooks to buy are about 50% of retail price Very good: More than 10,000 eTexts, available even after semester is over Computer or handheld device
Rent Rent-A-Text Rental textbooks available in college bookstores 50% of retail price All of your books, if you're on one of the 800+ campuses that it services Computer
Chegg.com Rental textbooks sent in bright orange sleeves Much less than retail: Shipping starts at 3.99, but return shipping is free Very good: NYT calls it the "Netflix of book rental companies"; boasts an impressive library of texts Computer
Buy Amazon.com New and used books Less than retail for new and used: Save up to 30% on new and 70% on used. Sign up for Amazon Student to get free 2-day shipping! Very good: Almost every text will be listed on Amazon, but not all will be in stock or at discounted prices Computer
Barnes & Noble New, used and rental books; eTextbooks Less than retail for new and used: Save up to 30% on new, 90% on used. Fast and free delivery for orders over $25 Very good: Like Amazon, offers a large inventory of new and used books Computer
Borrow Craigslist, Facebook Other students' used books Depends, but at least you cut out the middleman Depends on what your friends and other students have Word of mouth, computer
  • http://www.best-home-loan-refinance.com/ J@best-home-loan-refinance.com

    I constantly am checking on my schools website for the list of text books needed for the course. I make sure to check ahead and compare prices at text book stores and online.

  • http://www.best-home-loan-refinance.com/ J@best-home-loan-refinance.com

    I constantly am checking on my schools website for the list of text books needed for the course. I make sure to check ahead and compare prices at text book stores and online.

  • http://twitter.com/SEOleaner SEOleaner

    Ellie, great  tips, I often check chegg.com, amazon  on coupon sites, such as couponcabin, and CouponSnapshot , really save me a lot.

  • Anonymous

    Best way to save is called collective buying!!! search online for “Printapon” every day a local business will be featured and prices will be discounted upto 90% off

  • Sergio Mercado

    Please also include efollett.com on your list as well.

  • http://senseofcents.blogspot.com/ Michelle

    I usually buy my books used and search all the sites to find the best price.  But if I know that a book is about to be reprinted with a new edition, I’ll just rent it from Chegg.com or Bookrenter.com because I know that I won’t be able to sell the book for as much when I’m done with it.

  • http://www.mangomoney.com Mango Money

    This is a great list– very well organized and clear. Thanks! You might also consider going to retailers who sell books at discount prices, like Half Price Books. I don’t know about anyone else, but I still have to have an actual, physical book to do my reading. What if you want to take notes in the margin? Or curl up in bed with it, rather than your laptop? Okay, depending on the subject, curling up in bed with a text book might just put you to sleep… 

    Anyway, for any parents out there, here is a link to a post we recently did at Mango Money about saving on, not only books, but all sorts of back to school goodies for your kids: http://www.mangomoney.com/blog/trends/back-to-school-shopping Happy start to the school year, everyone! 

  • http://www.bmwysp.deviantart.com Jennifer Megan Varnadore

    To be honest, my textbooks come to me in the mail automatically, but I like getting textbooks anyway.

  • Cphillips

    Thanks for all of the info..I am new to the game of online book buying since my daughter is a Freshman…really appreciate the money saving tips..THANK YOU!!!

  • Cphillips

    Thanks for all of the info..I am new to the game of online book buying since my daughter is a Freshman…really appreciate the money saving tips..THANK YOU!!!

  • Jamie E.

    campusbookrentals.com is also a good rental website

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Morris-Bayberry/100001305968750 Morris Bayberry

    Great list. I especially like the layout comparing options. But I must say, having used many of these sites in the past they are all pretty good. However it can been frustrating wasting a whole day searching every site I can think of for the cheapest textbooks. That’s why I now use the textbook search engine http://www.bigwords.com They search and compare prices from all the online textbook retailers and rental sites (including all those listed here already) to find you the best prices. It really streamlines the process for me. 

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  • Mike

    Thanks for that, it was very helpful. Please also check http://textbooksandbooks.blogspot.com.au/ Textbooks and Books (T&B)is an online bookshop to sell cheap textbooks and books. They offer fast delivery and you can buy books online there through ebay and PayPal. Cheers.