Friday, August 12, 2011

How I Saved $214 Buying College Textbooks Online

Well, I've been thinking of starting a blog for awhile and now my advice to share has moved me to take immediate action. My daughter Bekah is going to be a freshman at Virginia Tech (Go Hokies!). She is majoring in Physics. We went to the school bookstore website to look up the textbooks she needed.  We found that her textbooks there were going to cost $402.  We did not want to spend that much so we took the advice of several Virginia Tech students, and looked up the books online.

We started the process by doing a google search on textbook websites.  We then entered the ISBN number on the top three websites. We went through the sites and checked the condition of the book, the reliability of the site, and the shipping and return policies.  We were able to find her books at a fraction of the cost. (After the methods of buying I explain about college textbook webcodes, what they are and how to purchase books with this in mind. Scroll down if you want to go directly to the Webcode section.)

Methods for buying textbooks:

  • Buying textbooks online is the option we used most often and here is where we saved the most money. As I mentioned, we copied the ISBN # at the school bookstore site, did a google search for textbooks, then pasted the ISBN number at the top three sites and made our choices from there. Before we purchased we double checked and triple checked the ISBN number to ensure it was exactly the same as the bookstore listed. Most of the companies did allow returns. All of the books we received seem to be exactly the same as the bookstore lists.
  • Renting Textbooks is an option now. When you rent a book it is for a certain number of days like 90 days or 120 days. When that time is up, you no longer have access to your textbook so you need to make sure it is available through the finals of your course.  Also check to see if you will need that textbook for more than one semester. My daughter needed her Calculus book for two semesters. The book was $120 through the bookstore. We could rent it for $60 for 120 days, but it was a two semester course so renting would cost $120, which we could buy it for that cost. We ended up buying it online for $27 plus shipping. 
  • E-Books downloading is also available now. We found that this is similar to renting where you are not buying the book permanently, but download the book to use for a set number of days. If you will need the book long-term, this is probably not a good option. I understand that this is usually about 50% of the new cost which we always found better prices online buying a book so we did not use this method. This option is nice because students can read the books on their ipads, kindles, bookreaders, tablets or laptops and do not need to carry around heavy textbooks.
  • Used Books from the school bookstore method of course has been around awhile now and that option still exists. For my daughter, the books that were offered used through the bookstore were significantly more expensive than what we found online. The advantages of this method is that returns are easy if the student decides to drop the class, it may be highlighted, (can be a pro or a con) you can get the book right away without allowing time for shipping, if the book will be used in the future you can return the book at the end of the course and the bookstore will buy it back for a significantly less price, and there is no worry that this might not be the correct version of the book (searching by ISBN #'s eliminates this problem anyway, but there is still some anxiety that it really is the right book when you buy it anywhere else)
A few options that are common so I won't go over them in detail are:
  • Buy from the college bookstore new
  • Buy from local used book stores. Many universities have local used book stores that specialize in this trade.

College Textbook Webcodes
At the orientation, students mentioned that we would need to have "valid webcodes," and we weren't sure what that meant. We couldn't find much information online so I called the bookstore and after asking a lot of questions came to an understanding of college textbook webcodes.

Webcodes are a passcode included in textbooks that take you to a website related to the course. Students need to have these webcodes to turn in homework assignments. These webcodes can only be used by one student so if you buy a used textbook, the webcodes will not be valid. 

Bekah's Physics textbook included webcodes in a supplemental packet, at the bookstore the new book, including the supplemental pack, cost $217. The bookstore also sold a separate supplemental pack for $58. If we had bought the book used, then we would also need to purchase the supplemental pack for $58 so she would have the valid webcodes she needed for turning in homework. The man at the bookstore told us that supplemental packs are not always available so you need to check this. You can ask the bookstore people to check and see if any of the books you need include webcodes and if they are available to purchase separately.

In our case we actually found a new copy of the book for $69! (vs $217 at the bookstore) We were thrilled. We were anxious to see if it would really include the supplemental packet. When it came we were happy to see it did have the supplemental packet with webcodes. We hadn't noticed that it was a softcover or paperback, but that was fine with us. If it hadn't had the webcodes we could still purchase the supplemental packet from the bookstore for $58 and the cost would have been $127, still much cheaper than the bookstore.

We ended up buying her lab manual and one other small book through the bookstore and purchased the rest online and we saved $214. It took us about two hours of work on the phone with the school bookstore trying to understand the process and then searching and purchasing the books.  We received the books within 6 days of ordering.

My Dad heard a news report that said that 8% of students were buying textbooks online. I hope this information helps. Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Great post Michele. Now let's have pictures of your family. I hope Bekah enjoys college and I know she will do great. She is such a smart girl. Love you all.