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Tips For Efficient Textbook Comparison Shopping

By Ashley Paskill

One of the most expensive aspects of college life is buying textbooks. While it may seem easier and more efficient to just get your books at the campus bookstore, their prices tend to be more expensive than other places. Because of this, you will want to compare prices from different vendors to ensure that you get the best price for your textbook.

Avoid buying the first copy you see

It may be tempting to just buy the first copy of the book you see. However, this copy may not be the least expensive option. Instead, compare prices and see where you can get the book for the lowest price. Even if you opt to buy a used textbook or rent it, there may be differences in prices on those as well. It may seem tedious, but even a few cents can make a big difference. You can always go back to that first copy after you finish comparison shopping if the first copy was the least expensive.

Steer clear of the campus bookstore if possible

As mentioned above, it is better to avoid the campus bookstore if possible. While it is right on campus and you do not have to worry about shipping, the bookstore prices tend to be much, much higher than other vendors. Also, there is no way to compare prices except to see their differences in prices for renting and buying new or used. In general, it is better to stay away from the bookstore, especially if you are looking to get the lowest prices on your books.

Instead, shop online. This makes it easier to comparison shop since there are websites such as Textsurf that help you compare prices on textbooks across multiple vendors right on one site. We will get into that later on, so stay tuned.

Do not be afraid to buy used textbooks

While there is nothing better than cracking open a brand-new book, even if it is a textbook, used textbooks are generally just as good as new versions. When comparison shopping, you may see used textbooks but have no fear! Most vendors screen the textbooks to ensure that they are in good, usable condition. Though they are generally in good shape, these textbooks are less expensive than new textbooks. This makes them ideal for a student budget. Even if your teacher wants the most recent edition of the book, look online to see if you can find a used copy. This may be difficult if it came out within the last semester, but you may get lucky.

Stay away from membership sites

When you are looking for textbooks online, you may come across sites that make you pay for a membership in order to access their tools to compare textbook prices. They may offer a free trial, but you are forced to pay monthly after the trial ends. Even with the free trial, it is easier to avoid these sites altogether, especially since it can be tough to remember to cancel! While you may justify it by saying that the low textbook prices make up for the membership, it is better to not use the membership sites and just get the low price. There are plenty of free sites out there, such as Textsurf, so paying a membership fee is an unnecessary expense to your already limited budget.

Make sure you have the ISBN numbers of your books

When you get your syllabus, either in class or prior to the start of class, check to see if your professor listed the books that you will need for the class. This usually includes the ISBN numbers, which helps you identify the specific edition of the book the professor wants to use. The ISBN numbers make it easier for you to look online and compare prices so that you have the exact book. This way, you will not be caught with completely different page numbers and chapters come time to begin assignments.

Consider buying an earlier edition

That said, earlier editions of the textbook may be cheaper and are not always significantly different than the most recent copy of the book. This is especially true between editions that are one number apart (i.e. the 3rd and 4th editions). However, if you do find a cheaper edition of the textbook, double-check with your professor to make sure it would be okay. Sometimes, professors use specific examples from the textbook on exams. These specific examples may be the only differences in the editions, so you may get a lower grade if you miss it on the test. However, sometimes professors encourage their students to use earlier editions and will include page numbers of the earlier edition as well as the newer version on assignment lists.

Rent instead of buy

Renting your textbooks is a great way to save money, especially if you do not want to hold on to the textbook after the class ends. The only catch is that you have to remember the date that you need to return the book by. Also, check with the vendor you rented from to see if there are any policies about highlighting the textbook or making notes in the margins so that you are not stuck with a fee.

Use Textsurf

Textsurf is a tool that allows you to compare textbook prices from multiple vendors, all in one place. They offer prices on buying new and used as well as renting the textbooks. If you get your syllabus early, you can even type in the book you need and watch to see if the price drops. There is an option to get emailed if the book price drops, which is convenient since you will not have to check the site every day. Textsurf also keeps track of your browsing history, so you do not have to keep typing in the book title or ISBN numbers.

Buying expensive textbooks is hard on a student budget, but comparison shopping can be tedious. With online tools such as Textsurf and the convenience of online shopping, this comparison shopping is not as bad as it could be. Luckily, this only happens at the beginning of the semester!