Clark Howard: Try these options to get textbooks for less

Consumer expert Clark Howard’s column appears here each Thursday in conjunction with Deal Spotter, a weekly print section in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

ClarkHowardI got a rude introduction to the high-price world of college textbooks when my eldest daughter was a freshman several years ago. At the time, I had to pay $135 for one book for one class!

Unfortunately, the cost of college textbooks is up 22 percent over the last four years, according to the Student Public Interest Research Groups. That’s four times the rate of inflation in the U.S. economy over the same period.

The College Board reports that the average student spends $1,137 on books for about 12 to 15 weeks before they become yesterday’s news at the end of the semester.

Thankfully, the Internet has come to the rescue by offering a number of websites like Chegg.com and Course Smart.com that rent college textbooks. (The latter even gives you digital access to textbooks on an iPhone, iPad or Android device.) Other popular textbook rental sites include BookRenter.com and eCampus.com.

I read a recent New York Times report that mentioned some other sites that were new to me, including Affordabook.com and SwoopThat.com. They’re both screen-scraper sites that search far and wide across the web to find you the best deals.

Amazon is even getting into the game now. Their Kindle Textbook Rental program supposedly offers big discounts up to 80 percent off the regular list price of physical textbooks. You can pay to access textbooks on a variety of digital devices — not just the Kindle — for anywhere from a month to about a year.

Then there’s always the low-tech method of saving money on books: You could try teaming up with a friend in the same class and sharing a book instead of shouldering the financial responsibility all by yourself. I did that in at least one class when I was in school back in the dinosaur age!

-by Clark Howard, Save More, Spend Less, Avoid Rip-offs

Find more answers to your consumer questions, plus Clark’s new book “Living Large in Lean Times,” at ClarkHoward.com. Listen to his radio show live 1-4 p.m. Monday through Friday on WSB 750 AM and 95.5 FM.

8 comments Add your comment

Dave

September 22nd, 2011
8:36 am

I think the best bet is to buy back editions or used editions off of Half.com or even Amazon. Back editions, especially if they are for a subject like anatomy or a hard science, don’t change much edition to edition. Or go in on a book with a friend, especially if you are an undergrad doing your general studies work (math, sciences, etc.) I’ve found the rental sites to be a rip-off if you want to keep the book. At my school (and granted it’s a specialized private university), a new book is only 10% more than a rental.

Librariman

September 22nd, 2011
8:41 am

Thank you for not recommending that students check out their textbooks from their college libraries (as AJC’s bargain hunter did). I am a college librarian. I can’t tell you how many students think that they are entitled to free textbooks. Libraries cannot afford to provide textbooks. It’s part of the cost of your college education.

EngineerWife

September 22nd, 2011
8:46 am

Amazon is pretty good for books that you want to buy and KEEP. Plus, college students get free Amazon Prime which make is nice to get the books for free shipping and get them 2 days later. We have used Chegg too and it works good. My husband is an engineering major and wants to keep a lot of his texts so unfortunately he cannot rent or share. Textbooks are a TOTAL ripoff with all the editions they have. You buy the book at the beginning of the semester and try and sell it back and they will not take it because they are using a new edition. What a rip! Thanks Clark for your info on how to save in college!!

Jason@TextbookRecycling.com

September 22nd, 2011
1:20 pm

I always appreciate your insight, Clark. Thanks for talking to people about affordable options for students and parents when considering textbooks. I think more people need to consider your ‘low-tech’ ways of saving money on textbooks. The best way to save money overall is by sharing your textbooks, then selling them back after your finished with them!

Thanks again, Clark!

J. Scott

September 22nd, 2011
5:02 pm

Fight back. Avoid the campus bookstore. Go online if you want cheaper textbooks. As long as some people are still paying retail prices the publishers are not going to be compelled to end their monopoly on student’s wallets. Go online and search for used books, international editions, older editions, rentals, and even e-books to combat the high prices. The only problem with this solution is that there are so many places online promising cheaper books. That’s why I use http://www.bigwords.com They are a textbook price comparison search engine that searches all the online retailers and rental site to find you the best prices, no matter which format you are seeking.

Derrick U

September 22nd, 2011
5:08 pm

Um, if the textbook is available at the library to be checked out then why shouldn’t we check them out? I can understand if they don’t return them for the whole semester, but if the school does not want those books checked out then they should not make them available to be checked out. I would also recommend using the Public library to check out books as well. I was able to check out a copy of a computer programming book this semester from the public library. I’ll return it on time and then check another copy out from a different branch. No harm, no foul.

Aardvark Base

September 22nd, 2011
5:57 pm

And students should encourage their professors to create custom textbooks, which are collections of journal articles, case studies, chapters from older textbooks, etc. The market is controlled by the professor- they choose what books they require the students to buy. If they create their own books, they are much cheaper. And these books can be sold on campus, which keeps the money on campus (student jobs, scholarships, new dorms, etc) instead of sending it off to Amazon, Chegg, and the other faceless e-corporations.

Blaser

September 23rd, 2011
12:41 pm

I’ve noticed some pretty big discounts for those who are willing to rent textbooks, but it completely depends on the book. Sometimes it’s still better to buy used textbooks and re-sell them at the end of the semester. Comparison shopping is the key.