The new year and new courses mean textbooks are on the shopping list. Many college students get overwhelmed upon receiving their textbook bill for the upcoming semester. According to reports, students must pay between £450 and £750 for textbooks over an entire degree in the UK! Ways to save on textbooks are going to make the top of that list now!

Even though there are now more affordable alternatives to college textbooks, many students still get sticker shock from the high prices. A report by U.S. Pirg in 2020 discovered that 65% of students didn’t purchase their assigned textbooks due to the cost.

So why are college textbooks so expensive, and what can you do to find cheaper options? This article will examine the textbook industry and provide six practical ways to reduce textbook costs and avoid price-tagged panic.

Why do textbooks cost so much?

So, here’s the scoop: textbooks? Yeah, they’re not exactly getting cheaper. According to the BLS report, textbook costs shot up by a whopping 88% between 2006 and 2016. And get this—the College Board thinks students studying in the US should set aside around $1,200 each year just for books and course materials. Crazy, right? Especially for those of us on a tight budget.

Now, here’s where it gets interesting. Not all textbooks are created equal. If you’re in a humanities class like art history, you might luck out with cheaper books. But if you’re diving into the world of STEM, brace yourself. According to Scott Virkler from McGraw-Hill, those “quantitative courses” tend to pack a heavier price tag because, well, the content costs a pretty penny to build and maintain.

And get this—even if your professor skips the textbook and fills your syllabus with journal articles or other readings, it’s not always a win for your wallet. Some of those texts are freebies, sure, but others? Yeah, they’ll still burn a hole in your pocket. Plus, with textbooks bundled with those pesky online access codes, it’s like a double whammy. You’re not just paying for the book; you’re coughing up cash for all those fancy extras like homework access and study materials.

Now, why are we shelling out more and more every year? Blame it on a lack of competition in the textbook industry and the fact that your professor gets to call the shots on what you need to buy. Those bigwig publishers—Pearson, Cengage, Wiley, McGraw-Hill—they’ve got a tight grip on the market. And guess what? They’re not exactly churning out books left and right in the subjects where their rivals are killing it. Talk about limiting our options, right?

And don’t even get me started on access codes. They’re like the textbook version of handcuffs. Once you use it, that book’s basically worthless to anyone else. No sharing with your buddies, no resale market—nada.

So yeah, textbooks might be essential, but they sure know how to hit us where it hurts—the wallet.


How to lower the cost of textbooks

While it has been a turbulent ride for college students struggling to fit the course materials they need into their college budget, the good news is that there are more digital solutions, online sellers, and textbook rental opportunities these days. Here are a few ways to cash in on the changes and lower textbook costs.

1. Buy second-hand textbooks

Alright, so here’s the lowdown on used textbooks: yeah, they might have a few doodles or notes here and there, but they’re usually a steal. Just make sure the one you’re eyeing matches up with what your class needs. You can hunt down used textbooks at campus bookstores, off-campus joints, and even other online spots that specialize in textbooks.




2. Try renting textbooks

Alright, forget about buying textbooks—renting’s where it’s at! According to the National Association of College Stores (NACS), a solid 35% of students opted to rent their textbooks during the 2020–2021 school year.

Now, before you dive in, it’s smart to do some snooping around. Check out different rental options by punching in the book’s ISBN and giving the fine print a once-over. Watch out for things like shipping costs, late fees, and any rules they’ve got (like if you can scribble in the margins or not).

Here are a few rental hotspots you might want to scope out if you’re studying in the US:

Oh, and heads up: if your course materials come with an access code, it’s already been used if you’re renting. So, you might need to fork out extra cash to snag that code separately. Keep that in mind!

3. Grab the digital version

Alright, check it out: digital books, aka e-textbooks, are like the cool cats of the textbook world. They skip the whole printing and shipping gig, so they usually cost less. If you’re cool with reading off a screen, you could save some serious dough by going digital.

You can snag e-textbooks from the US:

So, if you’re all about that screen life, these digital versions might be your new best friend.

4. Hit up the library

Oh, and don’t sleep on your school’s library or the local public library, alright? They’re not just for cramming sessions and quiet study vibes. You might just score some textbooks or extra materials there, which could seriously slash your spending. So, next time you’re in need of course materials, give those libraries a shout—they might surprise you!

5. Get your books early

If you want to score those textbooks before everyone else, you have to get ahead of the game. Picture this: you’re hunting for used copies, right? The early bird catches the worm—the same goes for textbooks. Get in there early, and you’re better at snagging a pre-loved gem.

Plus, starting your shopping early gives you time to do some serious comparison shopping online and off. That way, you can swoop in and grab a killer deal before someone else beats you. So, don’t sleep on it—get in there early and seize those savings!

6. Look into open-source options

Colleges are getting hip to the idea of hooking students up with freebies. They’re dishing out Open Educational Resources (OERs)—think textbooks, software, and other handy tools—all for free. There are no copyright restrictions, and no wallet is required. It’s like a treasure trove of educational goodies, waiting for you to dive in and soak up the knowledge. So, if you’re all about that freebie life, watch for those OERs—your wallet will thank you!


That’s a wrap on ways to save on textbooks

So, there you have it—why textbooks sometimes feel like highway robbery and how to dodge those pricey bullets. From monopolies in the publishing industry to sneaky access codes and everything in between, it’s clear why our wallets often feel the pinch.

But fear not! With these savvy tips, you can slash those textbook costs without sacrificing quality. Whether you’re opting for used books, diving into the world of e-textbooks, or exploring the resources available at your local library, there are plenty of ways to save some serious cash.

And hey, while you’re at it, don’t forget about test prep materials for exams like the GMAT, GRE, IELTS, or SAT. You don’t have to break the bank to ace those tests. Consider joining the 700+Club free online events to level up your skills without spending a dime.

So, go forth, fellow learners, and conquer those textbooks without emptying your wallet. Your bank account—and your future self—will thank you!


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