Monday, May 28, 2012

Buying Textbooks

If you're reading this right now and you're a student, you're most likely getting ripped off when buying your textbooks. This isn't an affront to your intelligence, but simply the conclusion of my belief that the average student buys the majority of his textbooks from the campus bookstore, which more often than not charges exorbitant prices. I understand that universities need to make money too, and that I have no right to judge their pricing decisions, nor will this article do anything to hurt their revenues. It is also true that what I have thus far written will most likely shock no current students, as the steepness of campus book markups is well-known throughout academia. 

So why is it that the majority of students (I have no facts to support that it is indeed the majority; only a strong suspicion) still insist on these inefficient purchasing habits. The most likely answer is also the most logical one: To avoid getting ripped off for textbooks, a certain amount of base knowledge and research is necessary. This is not to say that it is inherently any more difficult than walking over to the college store, but the initial acquisition of know-how that gets one to the point where they can use that know-how with minimal effort can have a high personal cost. This phenomenon is akin to say, changing a bike tire tube. There is nothing impressively complex in the process, but many people still see a professional about it because the cost required to learn how to change the tire proficiently can be uncomfortably high.

Getting back on point, I would like to lessen this cost for the readers by providing a few tips and websites that should make them much thriftier textbook purchasers. First off, I have found that websites which aggregate the costs of a few online bookstore websites and present a list of the lowest prices to be the most effective. A good example of this is CampusBooks. The site will present you with rental, used, international, new, and digital versions of the book you are looking for. Rentals are often the cheapest of the five options (Chegg is the biggest player in the textbook rental market), but remember that you cannot later sell these books back on the market to recoup some of your losses (or even possibly turn a small profit).

Possibly the next cheapest choice would be the digital version, otherwise known as an e-Book. Keep in mind that although they are often inexpensive, they also cannot easily be later sold on a major open online marketplace (more on these later on). There are also more obvious limitations, such as the need to have either a high-end phone, tablet, or computer to view them. Although in this day and age this shouldn't constitute an enormous problem, it can occasionally turn into a nuisance.

Used books are the next best option. Be suspicious of unusually great values found in this section (as well as the new section), as these are most likely international editions. International editions are produced abroad, usually using cheaper materials and shoddier craftsmanship, and while this is usually not a problem, it can become one when the page numbers and the order of practice questions are askew. Nothing stings quite as much as unwittingly doing questions 15 through 20 when your professor requested 1 through 5. There is no easy way to tell which internationals are winners and which are lemons, but I prefer to err on the side of caution and just pay the extra dollars for a regular used edition.

After the semester ends, you have a few options as far as trying to recover some of the cash you dished out. You can obviously sell the books to a fellow student at your university; many schools provide some type of system that helps you connect with potential buyers (you can, by the way, obviously use these same systems to purchase a book as well). Alternatively, you can attempt to sell that book back to your bookstore, although I question the quality of the deal you would receive there. Finally, you can attempt to sell the book through online marketplaces, such as Amazon or Ebay. This takes some initial experience as well to do correctly, but once you get into a groove with it, I feel the best values can usually be found through this method.

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