As a science major, every semester I drop hundreds of dollars on giant textbooks with names like “MOLECULAR BASIS OF NEUROPHARMACOLOGY: A FOUNDATION FOR CLINICAL NEUROSCIENCE” and cry myself to sleep at night. At the end of the year, I lug everything back home to resell on Half.com, usually with a small loss. As well as this strategy has worked for me, I still look forward to classes with innumerable handouts of primary literature. Sure, I’m learning better research (and not to mention organizational) methods, but it also usually means I have one less book buy and later list online.
That said, it’s no big secret that textbook prices are ridiculously inflated. So much so that some professors, such as Ron Hammond at Utah Valley State College, are forgoing them altogether:
Instead of textbooks, Hammond has been assigning journal articles and other reading materials that his students can check out from the library or download from the internet, a practice which, if every one of their professors did it, would save students (on average) $900 a year.
It took Hammond a year to rewrite his own curriculum, after throwing out all his old textbooks. “It was worth it in the long run,” Hammond said.
In the mean time, what can you do to protect yourself against soaring textbook costs?
- Buy used. Broad Street usually has a decent used book selection, but it’s not particularly dependable. For that reason, I recommend that you…
- Buy online. I’ve been buying my textbooks online since first semester freshman year and I highly recommend it. Your books get here a little slower, but to me, it’s worth it; If anything, ask your professor which book you’ll be using first, then buy that one from Broad Street and order the rest online. I use AddALL.com to search for the best deals, and I have Half.com and Amazon built into my Firefox search bar.
- Buy paperback. Do you really need that glossy hardcover?
- International editions are the shit. I don’t really know why they’re cheaper, but they’re exactly the same book at significant discounts.
- Opt out of the enclosed CD. You’ll never use it anyways. This tip is most applicable when buying used books online; If a book originally came with a CD and the seller lost it, they’ll usually sell the book at a lower price.
- Despite what publishers try to tell you, previous editions can be okay. Coming out with a new edition every few years is one of the primary ways textbook publishers cheat you out of your money. Add a paragraph or two, change the order of the homework problems and the cover design, and voila! Ask your professor if there’s a previous edition ze recommends. Some especially helpful profs will even give you the old page numbers.
- Resell. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a huge fan of Half.com. Facebook Marketplace is also an new option for selling textbooks directly to students from your own campus. Broad Street Buyback can be iffy; They’re convenient and pay cash, but at a significant loss to you.