Tips for Buying Textbooks

Stack of Textbooks

Image "Day 31: Read Up!" courtesy of Flickr User truds09, licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.


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I was going to do a detailed post about the ways to save money while buying textbooks, but alas, with school starting so soon, a quick list might be more helpful. These tips have saved me hundreds of dollars, reduced my back strain, and have made my textbook buying experience more positive. I hope they prove useful for you as well!

A note of caution: If you are a first year student, I would recommend getting all of the books on your “required” list and not not get/share/borrow. This is because you have enough issues to deal with as a freshman without worrying about whether you have all of your books. Imagine yourself 2 months into the term with a big midterm in a few days. Are you confident enough about that exam to study without one of your books? What about if 50% of the content was never covered in class and is exclusively from the book? 

Worst case scenario aside, here are some simple and advanced tips for getting the most out of your textbook budget.

Simple Techniques: 

1. Always negotiate. If you are comfortable asking people to drop their prices, do it. If you’re not, ask for other freebies such as class notes, practice midterms, handouts from TA’s, exam preparation packages, and model sets. Most people are fairly willing to pass on these things as getting rid of them frees up shelf space (or they are electronic files which makes for easy transfer). This would not only save you some money, but could also make you privy to exclusive information. However, the curriculum could change, and just because a certain topic wasn’t tested the year before doesn’t mean it won’t be this year. If you buy more than 1 book from someone, ask for a discount. You are saving them hours in contacting sellers and making the sale and they should pass those savings on to you. 

2. Do an amazon search for your book. The price for a “new” book on Amazon is the utmost you should pay for any book. If your bookstore has a more expensive version, get it off amazon. To get an idea of how much second-hand books will cost, head over to Craigslist. Facebook Marketplace is also pretty good for this, but not as many people post on there. 

3. Get multi-volume editions of your textbooks. If your book has multi-volume editions and single volume editions, do yourself a huge favour and buy the multi-volume edition. Why? Let me give you an example. In one of my first year physics classes, my professor had the brilliant idea of going through the entire textbook in 2 semesters. The textbook was over 1000 pages long and had 42 chapters. That meant that we were constantly getting assigned questions from the book and so had to carry it around all the time. Single Volume = back pain. 

4. Get the current edition. Yes, older editions are cheaper. But when you’re done and want to sell them, you also have to sell them for less (and their values depreciate faster as more and more new versions come on to the market). This doesn’t apply however, if someone can lend or give you the book for free. If their copy is within 1 or 2 editions of the current one, it should be good enough. Definitely double check with the prof though. 

4. Photocopy. No, I am not advising that you go copy the entire book. However, if your book is covered under Access Copyright (Cancopy) and you only need a small section (under 10%) of a book. It might be legal to photocopy that. But I’m no expert on copyright law, so check out this: before you try anything. 

5. Borrow from friends. And only if your friend doesn’t need the extra cash selling the book would bring.

6. Borrow from the library. Do this only for books you wouldn’t mind having to return the day before the midterm (in the worst case scenario). If you’re completely screwed for an exam without the book, buy it, don’t try anything fancy. 

7. If your professor wrote the textbook, buy it. Profs make money every time you buy their book (am I the only one who thinks there is a conflict of interest here?). They will also very likely want you to have the latest edition. 


Advanced Techniques:

1. Know exactly how much the book you want to buy is worth. First, check Facebook Market Place and Craigslist. This would tell you how much the book is realistically going for (second-hand). Now let’s look at this from the sellers point of view. After a student is done with their book, they have 2 options – sell the book to someone else or use the bookstore buyback system. Bookstores buy back second-hand books and then sell them to unsuspecting student for more. Check these buyback prices (e.g. UBC’s is right here: As a seller, it would make no sense to sell a book for lower than the bookstore buyback price because it’s more convenient to just sell it back to the bookstore. Similarly, it doesn’t make any sense to sell a book higher than the “used” price at the bookstore because buyers can just get the said books from the bookstore. Therefore, as a buyer, snatch up a book quickly if it its price is lower than bookstore buyback price and the average Craigslist/Facebook price. 

2. Get alternate/international editions. Many textbooks have international editions as well as the native North American edition. These books may have different covers (usually soft), but are general very similar if not identical to the North American editions. You can find these books online at retailers such as and save up to 50% on your books this way. Do remember though that selling these books would be more difficult, particularly if the book is for a first year course. Freshmen tend to play it safer (as they should). 

3. Wait until school starts. This is perhaps the simplest and most effective way of saving money. Your first lecture in a course should tell you 1) whether you want to stay in it and 2) if the professor actually uses the textbook. If the answer is “no” to either of these questions, then forget about getting the book. The downside to this (and why it is not in the simple technique category) is that textbook sales tend to dwindle after the first week or two of school, and it might be more difficult and expensive to obtain them. You might end up saving money simply because you bought less books, not because you got them at the best prices. 


And that’s about it. Good luck with buying your textbooks! Have some awesome tips? Leave them in the comments!


Have a terrific school year!


2 thoughts on “Tips for Buying Textbooks

  1. Pingback: How to Best Prepare for a New Term « Scratches on the Notepad

  2. Pingback: 5 Things to do Before Classes Start « Scratches on the Notepad

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