Buying and Selling Textbooks

We’ll show you the ropes when it comes to textbooks

As a college student, you’re probably familiar with ways you can save money on the daily. Carpooling, packing your lunch, Ramen noodle feasts, and more.

But every semester, there’s one cost that’s hard to avoid: textbooks. You’re asked to spend hundreds of dollars every semester on massive, hard-bound books that you’ll likely never open again after the semester.

Not only that, it can be incredibly overwhelming to know where to get textbooks when your options appear so limited—especially if you’re an incoming freshman and trying to find your way around campus.

Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. Read on to learn about the best places to buy and rent textbooks to save a little cash—and what to do with them when the semester’s over!

Go for that new-textbook-smell at the college bookstore

The obvious choice for textbooks is your college bookstore. Not only will they have best selection (because they order based on what the professors are teaching that term) but they exist to provide textbook service to students.

That said, purchasing new books outright at the college bookstore is not your only option; most bookstores stock used books at a fraction of the cost. You can also ask about renting the books for one term (which typically requires a contract) and can save a lot of money. Another up-and- coming option at many college bookstores are e-books which can be downloaded straight to your Nook, Kindle, or other e-reader.

When to buy from the college bookstore

You may need to purchase your textbooks from the bookstore if the textbook is new, because places that sell used books might not have it.

Another reason you might need the bookstore? You procrastinated or signed up last-minute for a class! Head to the bookstore and get that textbook today! However, if you can borrow a textbook from a classmate for a couple of days, you could shop around to see if you can find a cheaper deal.

Get thrifty on Amazon, e-Bay, and other online stores

If you like auctions or buying second-hand, there are some great options out there for you, such as Amazon and e-Bay. But a quick internet search will give you more selections than just these two outlets. What’s great about Amazon and e-Bay is that there are several different sellers to choose from, all on one site—and best of all—the prices are usually much cheaper than the college bookstore!

Both Amazon and e-Bay stand behind their customers, so if you have an issue with your purchase, they will intervene and help you resolve it; however, be sure and check the seller’s rating and reviews.

When to buy from the online retailer

If you have plenty of time to shop around and weigh your options, online shopping for textbooks may be a great alternative to the college bookstore.

Again, be certain that the seller is reliable; check their feedback and ratings. Also, be aware of their shipping time schedule; if you need your book in a week, purchasing online may not be the best solution. The purchase process, shipping, and receiving can be a lengthy process. If you want to go this route, give yourself time and plan ahead.

It may seem like a lot of work, but your pocketbook will thank you!

Save a pretty penny by shopping for international editions

International editions of textbooks are exactly like they sound. Aside from possibly having a different cover, or a different ISBN, the books are usually the same as the U.S. versions (ok, they might have a paperback cover instead of a hard cover), except for one major difference: the price.

Many times, you can save over 50% off a book simply by purchasing the International edition—and there’s no catch. While you can pretty much only find these books via online retailers (, e-Bay, etc.), most have a policy that allows you to return the book for free should you find a difference between the International and U.S. editions.

When to buy an international edition

If you were planning on buying a textbook online and you don’t care whether or not your book looks exactly like your classmates’, then you would purchase an international edition in the same manner that you would a book from any online retailer.

Renting your books

While similar in nature to Amazon and e-Bay, these online retailers are large chains that supply textbooks to students around the world. Their mission is built on good customer service and their shipping is fast and reliable. and other retailers offer students a way to rent or purchase textbooks, typically at a lower rate than the local college bookstore. Timelines to rent are based by day, week, month, or term.

It’s best not to rent too early as you may have to return the book before your semester final is done; however, don’t wait until the last minute either, because supply may be limited.

When to rent

If you need a book fast and don’t want the hassle or worry about bidding on an auction or worry that the seller won’t actually mail you the book, then this is a great option. Prices are typically lower on rented books, but you can compare prices if you’d rather purchase.

Go local!

Another great option is to look around at your local used bookstores. Books from all over end up in these little out of the way stores and you just never know—you may find one of your textbooks for pennies!

Former students (either just out of the class or those who have graduated) are often looking to make some extra money and would gladly sell you their textbooks.

Buddy up with other students to share the cost of books, or have a book-trading party where everyone brings their unwanted textbooks and you trade for either cash or someone else’s textbooks. Classified ads in the paper or on the college’s website are one more way to get textbooks inexpensively.

When to search for local treasure

Being familiar with your campus community is key for a successful hunt locally. If you have the time and connections to make with other students who are likely to have taken the same class, this option may work out very well for you. Looking around at the used bookstores will take time, so plan to start early.

Garage sales, moving sales, and library sales are other ways to find textbooks, but don’t rely on these means alone.

When to buy vs. when to rent

When to buy

The rule-of-thumb for textbooks is: if a textbook can be used in your future career and not be outdated, then buy it. For example, if you are an education major and one of your textbooks is Student Development Theory, then you might want to keep that.

Theories don’t change too much.

However, if you are in a program of study that is constantly changing and evolving, it may not be practical to keep every textbook. Or, if you haven’t yet decided on a major, you may want to look at other options instead of investing in material you will never use again.

When to rent

Some students don’t have the financial means to purchase any of their textbooks outright and that’s okay. Renting your textbooks is a great option that gives you access to the material without having to store or sell the books after the semester.

Ready to sell your books?

Selling textbooks is easier than ever! All of the places mentioned earlier will most likely be happy to buy your textbooks once you’re done with them as long as the books are still currently being used.

Campus bookstores

Campus bookstores will typically buy back only books that they sold. The best time to sell is the week of finals, and be prepared to get only a fraction of what you paid—sometimes pennies on the dollar. The books will need to be in good condition.

Online retailers

Amazon or e-Bay requires that you set up an account in order to sell your books. You will have to input all of the information about the book and sometimes need to include a picture. Using the ISBN number can make the process much faster. You can set your own price, but remember to factor in shipping costs, especially if the book is especially heavy. and other online rental retailers will buy books as they need them. You will have to mail the books to them for an estimated buying price. Since they make their money by selling and renting these books, the textbooks will need to be in very good condition and the amounts the company pays are similar to those at the campus bookstore.

Your fellow students

Other students are sometimes the easiest, fastest, and most lucrative method of selling your textbooks. There is no “middle man” to deal with and the money is all profit, as you don’t typically have any cost in shipping.

Other options

If selling your books seems like too much trouble, or perhaps the university is no longer using that same text, what are your options?

Well, aside from keeping the books and hope that you’ll have the need for them someday, why not opt for donating the books? You could talk to your local library, middle school, or high school about donating them. Teachers love to get their hands on college textbooks in order to tailor lesson plans to meet what universities are looking for in future students.

Another option is to leave the textbooks with the college or a professor to be given to a student who might be in need of a book and cannot afford it on his/her own.