To Buy or Not to Buy: That Is the Textbook Question


With options far beyond new or used, students have several choices for finding the best book for their buck.

With options far beyond new or used, students have several choices for finding the best book for their buck.

It’s no question: textbooks are not cheap. But now students face more options when it comes to getting books for the lowest price: buy, rent, or e-book?

The rate at which textbook prices increase is 3 times that of inflation, a 2013 Government Accountability Office found, and a College Board estimate on books and course supplies for the 2013-2014 academic year totaled $1,200. Students have options, however, that can reduce the costs of their books significantly.

Textbook rentals can offer cheaper options, but come with several caveats. First, students cannot resell the book at the end of the semester, so there is no chance of recouping the rental money, a New York Times article published August 9, 2014 states. The article notes, however, that the money from reselling a new or used purchased book is often lower than the price paid initially, particularly if a new edition is released or if the course using the book is not offered in the subsequent semester. Additional caveats include additional fees for damages to traditional books or overdue fees if the book is not returned on time.

In cases where the book will be used for multiple classes during a year or will be used for references, buying can be the most cost efficient option.

E-books can also present an attractive option as well, particularly for students who want to avoid heavy textbooks, or who prefer loading their books onto an e-reader, tablet, or computer. Many textbook publishers offer e-books through various apps, or through booksellers themselves. In some cases, purchasing e-books can be less expensive than buying new or used traditional books.

Although buying e-books may be good option, students should beware of renting e-books. An article from Consumer Reports published on August 26, 2014, notes that renting e-books can be more expensive than renting traditional textbooks.

In addition to the buy, rent, and e-book options, cost-savings experts recommend comparison shopping rather than relying on the campus bookstore exclusively. Online retailers such as and, can offer textbooks or e-books at significantly lower prices than the campus store, so checking multiple areas can be advantageous., an online price comparison site, can help students compare prices for new, used, rented, and e-books. Students can also check textbook prices with the publisher directly, and order from there.

Regardless of edition, The New York Times recommends finding the book’s ISBN to ensure they purchase the correct book. Although the number should be listed in the course catalogue, it can also be obtained from the campus bookstore or from the professor.

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