Textbooks 101: Before You Purchase or Rent, Here’s What You Need to Know
Where to find deals and what to consider when weighing buying, renting options
There’s no way around it: textbooks can be expensive. The average college student will spend $1,240 on books and supplies this year. But with acquisition options that include renting, digital downloads, and online price comparisons, you don’t necessarily have to blow your budget buying materials for organic chem or WR100.
“Students have the options to rent books and obtain digital versions, which produce huge savings,” says Kurt Mahnke (CAS’04), general manager of Barnes & Noble at BU, in West Campus. “The pandemic definitely accelerated the willingness of students to choose digital materials—last year we saw a 62 percent increase in digital purchases. And judging from our early ordering, that trend is going to continue.”
Want a physical copy, but don’t know whether to buy or rent? For example, if you’re taking a lab that requires a workbook, you’re probably better off buying a book straight-out. If you know you’d like to keep a book once your class is over—or if you’re someone who likes to write in the margins—you’re better off buying as well.
If you know you’ll only need a book for a semester, you might want to consider saving some cash by renting—just remember to return your books by the return deadline to avoid any fees. (Change your mind about renting? That’s okay—many retailers offer a buyout option at the end of each semester for students who rented their books.)
Below are a few options to consider before getting your textbooks for the semester.
Barnes & Noble at BU
If you’re thinking that buying from the school bookstore means having to wander through a labyrinth of bookshelves searching for the right shelf tag and course number—think again.
“We encourage students to order through our website,” Mahnke says. “Most of our business has shifted online; it’s a significantly more seamless experience.”
Currently, 84 percent of the bookstore’s titles are available to rent, and 39 percent are available as e-books. To buy online, simply go to your course schedule on the Student Link. There, you’ll find a “buy books” tab—click it and it will auto-populate a shopping cart with all of the books required for your classes. Once you’re in your shopping cart, you can choose what book format you’d like to purchase or rent—used, new, e-book, physical copy, etc.—and then pay ahead of time. The bookstore will email you when your order is ready for pickup.
Of course, if you do want to shop in the store, you can. “We still service a significant amount of physical purchases and rentals,” Mahnke says. Just come prepared with your book list and course and section numbers.
Amazon, of course, is still a go-to destination for students searching to buy or rent new and used textbooks or e-books. Rather spend your money elsewhere? Try sites like Chegg or Textbooks.com. Or take advantage of services that let you compare prices from a variety of retailers—BookFinder and Campus Books both scour the web to find you the best deals on new and used books. Plus, many of the marketplaces offer buyback options, which means you can always sell your purchased books back and recoup some of your money.
And never underestimate Facebook when it comes to textbooks. Each graduating class has a Facebook group where students regularly post their gently used books for sale.
Need literature or nonfiction for a writing class? Try ThriftBooks, advises Rusty Gorelick (COM’22). “If I’m taking an English class that requires regular books—or even if I want something to read for fun—I order from ThriftBooks because it’s inexpensive,” he says.
Don’t need a hard copy? Try searching to see if your textbooks’ publishers provide digital access to their titles. Companies like Pearson and Cengage, both big-time textbook publishers, offer digital subscription services that give users access to e-texts and study tools at a range of price points. Just make sure that a) your specific title is included before you sign up, and b) that the materials are compatible with your laptop or tablet.
Also, bear in mind that mainstream publishers are more likely to have digital capabilities than smaller, more independent publishers—but it never hurts to check.