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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 01/13/2011

How to find cheap textbooks online

By Jenna Johnson
Jenna Johnson

Today's guest blogger is Max Levitte, the founder of Cheapism.com, a Web site dedicated to finding the best cheap products that give value for your money.

The first major expense of the second semester is textbooks. The bad news is that they can be expensive. The good news is that you can find them for 40 to 85 percent less than the official price.

All you need to do is start exploring various online sites. There you can likely find the textbooks you need at much lower prices than the campus bookstore. But before you dive in and order books from the first cheapo textbook Web site you find, there are a few things you should know.

First, note the shipping costs. Textbooks usually weigh a lot, so FREE shipping is definitely a plus. Also, look at a Web site's inventory. The bigger the better because you don't want to split your order among several different sites -- that strategy could end up costing you a lot in terms of shipping.

Finally, make sure you're clear about the buyback or return policies, which vary from site to site. Carefully read the policy on what you can and cannot do to a book (heads up here: highlighting is often a no-no, and your definition of "damage" might be a lot looser than the vendor's) and how long you can keep if you decide to drop a class.

At Cheapism.com, we have a thorough guide on the best cheap college textbook Web sites. The guide includes a full discussion of the merits of buying vs. renting, new vs. used textbooks, inventory, shipping and delivery, return/buyback policies and customer service.

Based on these criteria, Cheapism editors recommend the following online vendors: Chegg.com, Textbooks.com and eCampus.com.

CHEGG.COM
Chegg's primary function is renting textbooks, although you can also buy textbooks at discounted prices and then sell them back for cash or credit. As an added perk, Chegg offers free shipping when you return your rented books at the end of the semester. This Web site is a good deal because of low rental and purchase prices, flexibility in the length of the rental period (fees might be tacked on if you need to hold the book longer), helpful customer service and on-time delivery.

TEXTBOOKS.COM
Textbooks.com boasts a huge inventory of more than seven million books, so chances are you'll find whatever you need here. Moreover, prices are often lower than what you see at competing Web sites. Textbooks.com also offers free ground shipping for orders over $25. Students report that customer service is generally responsive and books arrive on time and in good condition, although a few gripe about vendor claims of damage when books are returned, which obviously affects how much money you receive in exchange.

ECAMPUS.COM
At eCampus you can rent, buy and sell textbooks, or download electronic textbooks. You can save up to half off the retail price of new textbooks, and you get free shipping when you spend more than $59. Students appreciate the low prices, whether buying or renting, but opinion is mixed about customer service. A few users report their orders didn't arrive on time, and occasionally third-party sellers (typically other students) fail to send the requested book. But in all, this site gets a thumbs up.

BIGWORDS.COM
Another Web site we like is BigWords.com. We even get a kick out of their slogan: "Protecting the universe from high textbook prices since the dawn of time." Now this is no ordinary textbook Web site. A proprietary search function crawls the internet to find the best prices, deals of the moment, coupons, and promotions for the textbooks you need and tells you where to buy them. This meta-search service is said to save about $225 on the average order of multiple items.The company also offers a Bigwords iPhone app.

OTHER OPTIONS
Finally, you can always try Craigslist and Facebook, where students are starting to advertise and sell textbooks on their own. These sources can save money because they eliminate the price imposed by the middle man. On the other hand, there's no one vetting the condition of the books and customer service is non-existent.

So, the next time you consider trudging to the campus bookstore and plunking down some serious cash (or credit) for your textbooks, stop in your tracks. Be savvy and cheap: try these online resources instead. Your bank account will appreciate it.

Where do you look online for cheap textbooks? Tell me in the comments section.

And do you have questions about textbook pricing, cheaper alternatives and the future of electronic textbooks? We'll be discussing college textbooks at 1 p.m. Thursday on Campus Overload Live.

My guests will be Nicole Allen, director of the Make Textbooks Affordable project, and Bruce Hildebrand, the executive director for higher education for the Association of American Publishers. Send in your questions now!

Campus Overload is a daily must-read for all college students. Make sure to bookmark http://washingtonpost.com/campus-overload. You can also follow me on Twitter and fan Campus Overload on Facebook.

By Jenna Johnson  | January 13, 2011; 9:00 AM ET
Categories:  College 101  | Tags:  Textbooks  
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Comments

Half.com is great for buying textbooks and selling ones you've used.

Posted by: claireunga | January 13, 2011 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I compare prices between half.com, amazon, bookbyte, and chegg.com. Sometimes Craigslist is better for courses that uses the same book each semester.

I'm also a Chegg Champion, so if you use promo CC115879, you get 5% off your order! :)

Posted by: kungfuchiken | January 13, 2011 12:02 PM | Report abuse

I rent books all the time. I think it's great to have textbook rental programs on very campus. However, I noticed that campus prices are still higher then some of the online sites. I have been using http://www.cheapbookrenter.com to rent books and I usually save around $300 - $600 every quarter.

Posted by: singhjd | January 13, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I rent books all the time. I think it's great to have textbook rental programs on very campus. However, I noticed that campus prices are still higher then some of the online sites. I have been using http://www.cheapbookrenter.com to rent books and I usually save around $300 - $600 every quarter.

Posted by: singhjd | January 13, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

I rent my texts from Chegg and have found they usually have the best price. I want to share a code for a discount on your text order. Put in the code when ordering and hit the "apply" button. The code also gives you back an additional $5 when selling Chegg your used texts. Use code CC123047

Feel free to share the code with other starving students.

Posted by: chilibean1 | January 14, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I buy a lot of books online and have tried at least ten book price. My favorite is www.BargainBookMole.org, their website gives great details about a book's condition as well as shipping costs and they have these nifty add-ons for Firefox and IE that you never see unless you're looking a book online. Then a little tab magically appears and if you click it it searches for the best prices online right from the page you're on. The add-ons are free and take seconds to download.

Another tip: note people sometimes talk about benefits of online textbooks, but I've read some studies indicating, eBooks don't work well for challenging materials. Much better is buying used and selling them yourself.

Posted by: MPorter22 | January 16, 2011 11:12 AM | Report abuse

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