So you've just gotten your first semester's class schedule, and are anxious for that first day of class. Mommy and daddy just waved good bye and you're just starting to settle in to your new dorm room. It's been a pretty intense couple of weeks but you're finally all ready to go, except for one thing. You have to pick up your textbooks before you start class on Monday. No big deal right? They have a bookstore right at the college; you'll just head down there tomorrow and pick them up. Well new student, that's what they want you to think. Truth is, if you really do plan on marching down to the college bookstore, you better bring your lawyer with you, because you're bound to go bankrupt. Prices of college textbooks have risen dramatically over the past twenty years, and are becoming a problem on many college campuses. Recent statistics have shown that 65% of college students are showing up to class without the proper materials, which has an obvious effect on their education. So what's a cash strapped student to do? Have faith young one, there is a way you can save some loot, you're just going to have to do some research like any other smart shopper. Let's take a look at some of the things you need to know about buying cheaper textbooks.
1. It's no longer a monopoly
For many years, college and university bookstores had a monopoly on how books and supplies were sold to students. The system worked something like this: student signs up for class, teacher forces them to by book in order to pass. Now, where is the student to turn when it comes time to by the book? If you guessed the college or university bookstore, then you'd be correct. For many years students had no choice but to pay the extravagant prices that most of your major colleges charge for a new book. With little to no competition in the community, it became easy to jack up the price without anyone else putting up a fight; the perfect monopoly. This all changed once the Internet took off and online auction sites like ebay gave everyone the power to become their own retailer and reseller. Now, the doors have blown open and the players have begun to line up. Students are now in control of the textbook buying and selling marketplace, and new businesses have sprout up selling new textbooks at a much cheaper rate than those in the university bookstores. As the basic business principles of supply and demand catch up, these bookstores will have to change their own prices if they expect to compete with their new online competition.
2. There are many places online to find books
As mentioned before, many businesses have sprouted up on the internet hawking college textbooks and supplies. Some of these online bookstores run like traditional college bookstores, which focus of selling new volumes and supplies first but also offer to buy and sell used books as well. Websites such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon.com are obvious big dogs in the online book business, so we'll mention them first. Other sites that sell along the same lines include PhatCampus.com, BIGWORDS.com, and BookByte.com. All sell new and used books for prices cheaper than your college bookstore in addition to buying books back (that they do re-sell for a profit). If you really want to save some bills, however, you're going to have to cut out as much from the middleman as possible ('cause we always know there's a middleman!). A great example is Chegg.com, a website that allows students to buy and sell everything from textbooks and supplies to other needed items like furniture and clothing. Chegg.com encourages that students develop a network between each other of trusted sources as to eliminate the faceless purchase of goods and services that other sites thrive on.
3. You don't need a brand new book in order to pass a class.
Many new students entering as freshman usually don't put a lot of thought into their initial book and supply purchases. They walk blindly into college without really knowing the ins and outs that is the "business" of selling education. It's not until they've eaten that first couple hundred dollars before they realized all along that they could have purchased their books used and probably cheaper than any other books they'll purchase while in school (because usually these classes are introductory and everybody has to take them, thus a surplus of used books!). Make sure you never purchase a new book for class, unless you know you're going to keep it forever or it's a specific type of book that can only be purchased new. You may run into situations where you have to buy something new because it contains other study materials only available in a new version; in that case, shop around and try to find the best deal. Otherwise, buy the cheapest used book you can find, cause at the end of the day it's the information inside that counts.
4. Prepare in advance and you won't need to pay full price for books.
The only recommended scenario where a full price has to be paid for a new or used book on campus would be a situation where you forgot to purchase your books within a reasonable time and have to buy them at the last minute (like, on your way to class!). In this situation, you have nobody but yourself to blame for being a procrastinator and not getting the job done. Make sure you get your classes and schedules in early so you have plenty of time to hop online and find the best deals for used textbooks. And even if it is a special or hard-to-get book you need for an oddball class, chances are you'll still spend less for it online. Who knows how much money has been lost just because a student was more worried about how many keg stands they were going to do at that frat party the weekend before new classes started instead of getting their priorities straight. Do yourself a favor and take your education seriously, and you just might have the chance to be one of the rare few that manages to save a buck or two while completing college. And if you're not paying for it, them shame on you for not using daddy's money a little smarter.
5. Make sure you're buying the right books.
Okay, so now we know that it's pretty easy to hop on the Internet and buy books. Should be pretty easy to do, right? Well, it is rather easy to accomplish, especially if you actually know what you are doing. First, let's make sure you are buying the right books. You wouldn't be a happy camper if you got your books and headed off to class only to find that the books you got such a good deal on just so happened to be the WRONG books! You idiot! To ensure you're looking for the right thing, always pay attention to the book's title, author, and finally the books ISBN number. ISBN, which stands for International Standard Book Number, was created many years ago to document and identify books commercially. You will receive this number when you sign up for classes, and use it to locate books both online or god forbid in the college bookstore. Using this number will also allow you to easily sell it online later, as many sites keep pictures and information of these books in databases that pre-fill selling information for you. A great system for making sure you got the right up-to-date books.
6. Make sure they're not missing materials.
So, we've come to the real only downside to purchasing your books used, and even more purchasing them off of the Internet. It's usually a blind purchase, as in you don't necessarily know who the buyer is and you don't exactly know what you are getting. Because many online services use that ISBN database to show pictures of the books you'll be purchasing, you'll probably never get to see the actual book you are buying. Not usually a big deal; expect some tattered or missing covers (especially for paperbacks), highlighted text all over the place, doodles and notes, and maybe even some coffee or cigarette stains here and there. These are all expected. What's not expected is missing pages or other materials (cd-roms) that should have come with the book. Make sure before you purchase any used books to make sure they don't come with extra materials; these may get left out on the used market. As far as missing pages, it's probably not too much of a concern but just something to be aware of so as you're not freaking out surprised. It's also a good reason to check out peer-to-peer and close-networked services like Chegg.
7. You can get cheaper supplies as well.
That's right folks; this new affordable system that's emerging online isn't limited to textbooks. In addition to the markups college bookstores have had for years on it's books, similar markups have been applied to numerous supplies the student is responsible for purchasing, especially with art students, who are responsible for many different pens, pencils, paints, paper, canvases and other expensive supplies. They remained expensive in the same way that textbooks did, basically because there was no where else to pick up these required tools. Now, the floodgates are open for students to choose from whom and where they get their supplies come from. The same can be said for other required gizmos and gadgets like calculators and computers, to everything else a student may want or need to get through school. The communities begin built online are changing every dynamic of commerce on campus, and if overpriced college bookstores and similar priced local businesses are going to compete, they're going to have to up the ante on service and make a strong push to keep the kids coming back.
8. Profit margins on used books can outrageous.
Maybe some of you out there are just a little skeptical about the whole business, and don't really think that colleges have been stacking chips over textbook profits this whole time. Well, we could go into how much colleges rake in all across the board (with the price of education skyrocketing as we speak), but that's a topic for an entirely different article (or book, however you want to look at it). Profit margins for used college text books were recently quoted at over 40%! That 's crazy. Imagine if you just got done with a book that you didn't need it anymore. You could sell it back to the book store and get $40, and they'll turn around and sell it to someone for almost $60. Multiply that by the hundreds of books coming in every semester and that's quite a chunk of change the bookstore is picking up. Do yourself and your fellow students a favor and sell your books directly to other students, who hopefully will sell their books directly to you.
9. You can get free textbooks.
That's right kids. Because of the rise in computer use in classes, faster download times and the fact that most students own a laptop, the future of the textbook is in the digital format. How much do you think it costs to distribute books electronically? Practically nothing! Right now some schools are giving away free downloadable course materials in PDF format and students are saving hundreds of dollars per semester. How are they doing it? Advertising. Book publishers are teaming up with large national advertisers who pay to have advertisements shown in the book you decide to download. The business model is very similar to television or online advertising, where content is produced and distributed to consumers for free and revenue is made through selling advertisements. Their are many critics who deem this method of textbook distribution un-ethical, as it takes advantage of the youthful mind by subjecting the students to looking at advertisements trying to sell a product instead of focusing on the content in the book. Needless to say this is debate that will rage on as more people catch on to the aspect of getting their books for free.
So now you hopefully have a better understanding of the business of buying books and supplies you'll need to get through college. Buying books is usually the last thing students are worried about with all the stress and anticipation of entering college for the first time. With some newfound financial knowledge under your belt, you'll now walk right by that college bookstore with your head held high with the confidence of knowing you spent a lot less on your books than the schmucks throwing their money away inside. Take control of your spending habits and use your knowledge of finding affordable books to teach others and give power back to the student body. College shouldn't be about being a another nickel and dime to a million dollar machine; it's about educating yourself to be a smarter person and to learn and retain skills you'll take with you to further your career. Become part of the education revolution today!