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Buying College Textbooks Online

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Biology TextbookOne of the biggest scams in education, besides shelling out thirty grand a year for a private university (just kidding Mom and Dad!), is the college bookstore. They sell textbooks at full price and then, at the end of the year, offer to buy back that textbook at a fraction of the price. Buy a copy of Machine Learning, new, for $153.44 and then they’ll offer to buy it back for around $20 at the end of the semester! It’s a racket!

What you should do instead is buy a used copy of Machine Learning for a 79.99 and tell the university bookstore to go screw themselves and their monstrous profit margins.

Some people have reservations about buying textbooks online because they don’t like the idea of buying something sight unseen. I share those reservations if the item is something that’s thousands of dollars (I did buy two cars on eBay, so maybe I don’t share it quite so much) but we’re talking a savings of 50% on something as dull as a textbook. However, given those reservations, here are a few tips I have for buying textbooks online.

  1. Read seller’s feedback – There are a number of sellers who are businesses selling used textbooks, one example is “ecampus_com” on Amazon who has over 69,568 ratings (86% positive). Go with these larger sellers (some are often stores or other websites using the Amazon Marketplace to unload inventory. I find that feedback through Amazon’s system is much more accurate than on Ebay because the buyers aren’t afraid of retaliation if the transaction goes sour (eBay recently changed this but the historical records still remain under the old system).
  2. Use a reputable site with a strong mediation program – If the book doesn’t come, you want to make sure the website handles the problem. I’ve had people on Amazon not ship a book. I reported that the book never arrived, received a refund, and bought another one from someone else. It’s harder to do that on Ebay, Amazon requires only a simple explanation and a few mouse clicks. (which I suppose is bad for sellers, but whatever)
  3. Buy a book at the bookstore, return it when the cheaper one arrives – If your bookstore has a liberal return policy, allowing you to keep the book for a few weeks, take advantage of it. Most stores offer liberal return periods because many students don’t drop a class until they’ve tanked the first test, bookstores are very understanding in this way.
  4. Use a credit card – Instead of a debit card for your online transaction, use a credit card. If you’re balance is close to $0, having a textbook’s charge sitting in limbo limits your financial flexibility. Don’t put yourself in that situation.
  5. At least buy from an online bookstore – While Machine Learning is an awful example because Amazon offers no discount on the retail price, at least look online to see if their prices are cheaper. Use resources like AddAll, a textbook search engine, to find the best price.
  6. Don’t buy it online, buy it from another student – Rather than buy the textbook from a website, hit up your school’s bulletin boards or For Sale message boards to see if someone is selling that book on the cheap. You can often save on shipping charges and even get yourself a better deal. Remember, the seller is trying to get more than $20 for the book and you’re trying to pay less than $200, a happy medium can be found somewhere in there.

There you go, my tips for buying textbooks (or any book) online.

(Photo: psychobabble)

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One Response to “Buying College Textbooks Online”

  1. Jon says:

    You can buy international versions of textbooks for a fraction of the cost of the US version at http://www.textbooksrus.com/.


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