Aug. 16, 2011 at 8:32 PM ET
For college students, back-to-school often means an expensive trip to the campus bookstore. The average cost of books and supplies at a four-year public university last year was $1,137, according to the College Board. Savvy students can save money by shopping online at specialized college textbook sites, which claim to offer savings of up to 90 percent. These sites also offer e-textbook downloads for Kindles, iPads, and other e-readers. Students can either rent or buy the books they need. While renting tends to be cheaper, buying is better for those who want to be able to refer back to a book after a course is over or add yellow highlights with abandon. Like bricks-and-mortar bookstores, textbook websites will often buy back books at the end of the term, provided they are still in good condition — typically for far less than the purchase price, of course.
When you shop for anything online, shipping costs can cut into the savings. Some textbook sites offer free shipping if you spend over a certain amount. Return shipping factors in as well if you’re renting or planning to sell books back to a site. Be sure to order ASAP so you’ll have your books in time to start classes.
Most sites offer both new and used books; the better the condition, the higher the price. If you opt for the cheapest books, be prepared for bent corners and doodles in the margins. Many sites also note that they can’t guarantee a used textbook will come with all the original supplemental materials, such as CDs.
A broad selection can allow you to order books for all your classes in one place. A large inventory also makes it easier to find enough books to hit the minimum amount required for free shipping. However, many sites use third-party sellers — aka other students — to widen their selection, which can make them somewhat less reliable.
Here are Cheapism’s top picks for college textbooks sites.
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