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Simple Way to Save Thousands of Dollars on College Textbooks

In: Extrabux Updates|书籍&音像制品|调研类

10 Aug 2010

I don’t like paying full price for anything, which is actually one of the main reasons I co-founded Extrabux.com in 2006 while in college. During that time I figured out a (genius) system that saved me about $1,200 per year on textbook costs. I have the textbook buying system down to such a science that I’ll show you how to get your textbooks for about $22 each:

infograph-2.jpg

We all know that a college education is expensive. According to The New York Times, 80% of college students graduate with more than $36,000 in loans. While we here at Extrabux can’t do much about lending rates or the job market awaiting grads, I can offer some advice to help students save hundreds of dollars on textbooks every semester.

The average undergrad can spend more than $1,000 each year on textbooks alone. While brick-and-mortar campus bookstores still draw a large amount of business, 30% of college students are now buying their textbooks online, where required reading often comes at a cheaper price.

But not all online textbook brokers are equal. Using online data that I’ve compiled from a number of sources, I crunched the numbers and created the definitive cost-saving guide that can help students cut their annual textbook expenses by 90%. Before I get into how students can save, let’s take a look at how   consumers typically shop for textbooks.

How do online consumers shop for textbooks?

There are three options for online textbook shoppers:

  1. Buy
  2. Rent
  3. Download

As you’ll see in the graph below, which I created using data from Google Trends, while textbook rentals are catching up, the vast majority of online consumers prefer to buy used textbooks, and for good reason (read on).

consumer searches2.jpg

The cheapest textbook sites

Half.com has the best prices on used textbooks. Chegg.com has the best prices for textbook rentals. As for new textbooks, students should simply avoid them at all costs.

In my quest to find the best way to buy textbooks online, I’ve checked in with a host of popular merchants to see how their rates stack up. In the graph below, I took the average price of a random sample of textbooks sold by all of the merchants selected.

cheapest prices to buy.png

My analysis confirms what I already learned from my college days: When it comes to textbooks, newer isn’t better—it’s just more expensive.

  • A new textbook costs about 50% more than a used textbook.
  • Half.com has the best prices on used textbooks.
  • Textbook rental sites like Chegg can provide big up front savings to students who don’t want to provide textbooks with a permanent home on their bookshelves.
  • Renting textbooks can save about 37% up front compared to buying textbooks used.

Given these numbers, I know what you’re thinking: Rent, don’t buy. Not so fast. Let’s take a look at the long-term savings when you buy your textbooks and sell them later.

Where to sell your old textbooks

Abebooks.com gives students the most cash for their textbooks.

So it’s time to get rid of old textbooks—now what? There are several websites that buyback student’s old textbooks. While most universities have textbook buyback programs, selling online pays more. Using the same sample set of textbooks as above, I’ve charted the average buyback price from each merchant below.

average buyback price.png

As you can see, students get about 20% more from Amazon than from the runner-up, Abebooks.com. However, it’s worth noting that Amazon doesn’t pay cash for textbooks. Instead, the site issues an Amazon gift card for the amount, which students can use to buy textbooks on Amazon the next semester (assuming they have old books lying around and they will need to buy textbooks next semester).

To simplify this decision-making process, I’ve created a chart to help students determine where to buy and where to sell, depending on whether they also need to buy textbooks, hock old ones or engage in any combination of the above. Think of it as the choose-your-own-adventure of buying and selling textbooks.

flow-chart.png

Rent vs. Buy and Sell

Renting textbooks may save students some cash up front, but they’ll save a whopping 46% per semester by buying and selling textbooks as opposed to renting them.

How do students get the most money back for a textbook they don’t want to keep around?

To answer this question, I used the same textbook sample set as above, subtracted Abebooks.com’s  average buyback price from Half.com’s average used price for those textbooks and then compared that to Chegg’s average rental price for those textbooks. (Please excuse our math lesson).

buy and sell vs rent.png

Enter the mathematic payoff: Renting textbooks may save students some cash up front, but they’ll save a whopping 46% per semester by buying and selling textbooks instead of renting them.

Granted, this analysis does not consider that a semester of use may slightly decrease the buyback value of the textbooks, but a textbook’s buyback value would have to decrease by about 50% for renting to be cheaper. So, as long as students are not conducting chemistry experiments with their actual chemistry textbooks, values shouldn’t decline much over time.

Need convincing? The graph below, which was compiled using data from BookScouter.com, shows that the average buyback price history of all textbooks in our sample set doesn’t change much during the course of a few semesters.

buyback price over time.png

Selling textbooks: Timing is everything!

Students can sell their textbooks for as much as 28% more by selling during the right months. July, August and January are the best times to sell while April and December are the worst times to sell.

For students looking to sell old textbooks, I have one important lesson to impart: Timing is everything. Well, that and this nugget from Economics 101: The best time to sell is when demand is high and supply is low. When it comes to textbooks, this means that students will get the most money for their books if they sell them when there are a lot more people buying rather than selling textbooks.

When exactly is that time? Using data from Google Trends, I’ve created a graph that shows when the textbook market is most lucrative.

searches for used vs sell.png

When I compare the difference between the number of  searches for “used textbooks” versus the number for “sell textbooks,” the peak times to sell become apparent.

demand minus supply2.png

Based on that trusty theory of supply and demand, it’s clear that the best months to sell textbooks are July, August and January. And, as the chart shows, the worst months to sell are April and December (especially before Christmas).

If you need more convincing, take a look at the next chart. To confirm that the theory of supply and demand does in fact influence online textbook buyback prices, I overlaid the demand (minus) supply graph with a zoomed-in version of the average textbook buyback price history graph from earlier.

final graph.png

The supply and demand of used textbooks significantly affect the buyback price. In the course of a couple months, the fluctuating number of sellers and buyers in the market can affect the buyback price by as much as 20%—that translates to about $12 per book! Even non-math majors can rejoice in those numbers. The best time to sell this year will be the week of August 23rd.

Now that we’ve completed today’s lesson on textbook economics, I’d like to hear what you have to say. How do you prefer to buy textbooks? Is buying used and reselling at the right time too much of a hassle, or is it worth the savings?

18 Responses to Simple Way to Save Thousands of Dollars on College Textbooks

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Sarah

August 10th, 2010 at 8:09 am

Great report! I wish I would have known all this while I was in college :(

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Rose

August 10th, 2010 at 8:15 am

It’s amazing that you can books for this cheap. I think that if you sell your books back, that’s definitely the way to go, especially since they always give you free shipping to send them back.

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medical assistant

August 10th, 2010 at 10:04 am

Wow this is a great resource.. I’m enjoying it.. good article

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James

August 10th, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Why didn’t I do this?!

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Brandon Checketts

August 10th, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Thanks for the mention of BookScouter. I’m glad that some people still see the advantage of buying and selling your books back rather than renting.

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Lisa

August 11th, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Jeff – Thanks for this piece. It shed light on how many textbook vendors and renters have emerged, as well as how cumbersome it is for college students to find the lowest prices available online. As a result, book.ly has established a platform similar to that of Kayak to assist students in their search for the best deals on textbooks.

book.ly is a price comparison site that saves students time and money when shopping for textbooks. Unique to book.ly is its database of school specific information for over 1,500 schools that enables students to find their books at the cheapest price possible, without looking at even one syllabus.

book.ly offers all purchasing and selling options, so students can truly save and earn the most. Shopping for books online has never been faster, easier, or smarter – so students can stop searching for the best deals and start learning!

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Jeff Nobbs

August 11th, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Hi Lisa, I checked out book.ly and it seems to be an excellent resource. I agree that students need an easier solution to textbook buying and one that will always find them the lowest price. That is also our goal with Extrabux.com – make it fast and easy to pay the lowest price possible.

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Juj

August 12th, 2010 at 8:11 am

Just read this last night and saw this article on NY Times this morning:

http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2010/08/12/business/AP-US-Smart-Spending-College-Textbooks.html?hp

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Jeff Nobbs

August 12th, 2010 at 12:03 pm

Hmm, seems to be a hot topic. They also wrote this one about a week ago: http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/how-to-find-cheaper-college-textbooks/. The problem is that they just throw a bunch of buying options at readers without showing (or even suggesting) which one is the best or cheapest.

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Wink

August 13th, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Awesome tips! Thanks so much for the great leads and the awesome research. I will definitely be following your lead and will be doing my book buying and selling through Extrabux. These days, EVERY penny counts! I wonder if they do high school books, too….

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Juj

August 14th, 2010 at 9:07 am

Which is why I loved your diagrams! And why I just sent this to my mom and her friends

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Jeff Nobbs

August 18th, 2010 at 6:48 pm

:)

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Margo

August 21st, 2010 at 5:16 pm

This article was very informative and should be what all students should be seeking in this economy. To try to save both their parents and themselves the extra cost on books that have the same material is using your college education to make sense(cents).
Using Extrabux.com is another way to save as well….
It is not being cheap it is using the strength of the internet’s ability to be a smart shopper.. An educated shopper makes cents.

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Bianca Portella

September 5th, 2010 at 11:22 am

Hello,

I’m performing a research entitled “Buying Textbooks Online” where I intend to identify what are people’s needs and wishes for a website specialized on textbooks, and what makes people choose them instead of regular bookstores.
I would appreciate if I could get a minute of your time to know your opinions. Just click on the website below to start the survey:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/J5DQ3CR

Thank you!

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Lance Brosious

January 3rd, 2011 at 7:33 pm

thanks for this article

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misskitty_79

March 21st, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I just borrowed the text book from the library, then photocopied it at work. Some semesters, I even managed to sell my photocopied version on to someone else for enough to cover the cost of photocopying it…

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south america

June 1st, 2012 at 1:01 pm

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Wow, I’m so chuffed that I landed on this site, good info here! Better than http://facebook.com!…

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peru vacations

June 2nd, 2012 at 4:05 am

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Wow, I’m sincerely chuffed that I clicked on this page, great info here! Better than http://facebook.com!…

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