How To Buy University Textbooks On The Cheap

The beginning of the year traditionally sees students everywhere spending ludicrous amounts of money on textbooks. Here’s some tried and tested strategies to help trim your textbook budget.

Textbook pricing is an unfortunate reflection of the laws of supply and demand. Textbooks can take years to write, but will only ever have a limited audience, so the $100+ price tags represent an attempt by the authors and publishers to recoup some of those costs. None of that helps much when you have no money for the year and a potential textbook bill in the hundreds or thousands. Here’s some recommendations on how to tackle that problem, largely sourced from the Lifehacker audience.

Work out if the textbooks are essential

It’s not always obvious when you first start university, but not every textbook is actually essential to the subject you’re studying. Entry-level 100 courses often hew pretty closely to the text, but as you progress into more advanced subjects, independent research often matters more than absorbing the specific contents of a text. It very much depends on the subject and the inclinations of the lecturer, so you’ll need to ask. Check with lecturers about which books matter the most, and ask former students what their experience has been.

Go second-hand

OK, that’s an obvious strategy, but it deserves a mention. Do some price checking first though — it’s not unheard of for second-hand copies of popular texts to be priced rather close to the new versions. If you plan on selling your own texts at the end of the year, try and keep them in good nick so you can get more money for them. Textbookexchange is specifically focused on buying and selling textbooks for the Australian market.

Use Booko to find the cheapest copies

We love price comparison engine Booko, and it’s an ideal way to find out if you can access cheaper copies of a set text from overseas. Allow extra time for deliveries from OS, but if you use this to source your book list, you can potentially save major amounts of money.

In practice, this may still be more efficient than using local sources. Frequent Lifehacker commenter trideceth12 provides a concrete example:

I recently purchased new textbooks, let me give you a breakdown:

Textbook (Integrated Chinese Lvl 1, Part 2, 3rd Edition): University Price: $86.59 $43.99

Workbook (to go with above textbook): University Price: $40.57 $25.99

Additionally, at the end of last semester these textbooks were not available (I wanted them to use over the summer break). Ordering from amazon i received them cheaper AND FASTER than I could have from the university bookshop, which is a trap for international students with rich parents.

Even readers, which you might think you need to buy from the bookshop, are usually also available as PDF files… take it to Officeworks and have it printed AND BOUND for a fraction of the price the university would charge.

Establish how many library copies there are

Chances are your university library will have multiple copies of major texts. That doesn’t mean they’ll always be readily available, but in-demand items may be in a special shelving program where loans can only be made in the library for a limited period. Policies vary between libraries, but it’s definitely worth looking into if money is tight.

Share textbooks with fellow students

I used this strategy with great success when studying English, when there was a new novel to be read every week and you needed to show up at tutorials with a copy of the book. My best mate was also doing the same course, so we organised to be in different tutorials and skipped buying duplicate copies except when the text was one we both actually wanted to own.

Work out if you really need the newest copies

Popular textbooks are frequently updated, but the differences between editions aren’t always substantive. If you can get away with using the earlier edition, second-hand copies are likely to be substantially cheaper. (If your lecturer tells you there’s a few essential elements in the newer version, grab a library copy and photocopy those pages.)

Got more textbook money saving wisdom? Share it in the comments.


  • I normally use Textbookexchange from StudentVIP for second hand textbook since it sources from your own university and shows different delivery meduims.

    Although Abebooks is much better for new older edition books

  • It may not be the most ethical suggestion but for my IT Degree I often found pdf versions of text books available on p2p networks and newsgroups.

    If the textbook was actually helpful I would consider buying it.

    Pdf versions also help alot when trying to search for text / sections etc.

    • This is a whole other topic, but I just can’t sit and read a book off a screen. I saw an article on the BBC world service that suggested, based on recent studies, that the three dimensional nature of books / printed reports / any physical reading material, makes them more comprehendable and memorable (because our brain’s spatial processing ability is used when reading a book, but not when reading off a screen)

      The article even cited a London based tech company which had gone “paper free” and thrown out their file cabinets in favor of electronic records, but whose employees kept archive boxes with paper records in their cars (and secretly slipped out to read them). They went on to say that the study found that “paperless” offices are less efficient.

  • I’m going to try the library-only textbook strategy this semester and see how far I can take it. Hopefully it means I dedicate more time to actually reading them while I’m at uni. Less back strain from hauling books on public transport is also a bonus :/

    • I tried this strategy for 1 semester, doesn’t work too effectively when it comes up to exam times or assessment. My university had 3 copies but with a class of 200 they disappear quickly.

    • FABULOUS TIP! Thank you so much! I have spent lots of time trying to find the books I need for my first semester of uni and I can get brand new ones delivered cheaper than I can get second hand books that I have to go somewhere to collect – THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

  • Check out other university libraries. The set text for one course that’s on closed reserve at one library is in open load at another. It’s not always easy to get an interlibrary loan – try via your local suburban library rather than uni library. But for those last minute assignments it can be the only chance to get a look at it.

  • Book Depository (Google it) has textbooks selling for a lot cheaper than at Unishop. Definitely worth a look if you’ve been given a list – I got two books worth over $100 at uni for $50 each.

  • A friend of mine is help bringing chegg (A big American book rental company) to Aus, its called Zookal. Their meant to be super cheap, like 65% off or something

  • “…which is a trap for international students with rich parents.”

    Yeah, because ALL international students are rich, right?

    *rolls eyes*

    Frigging bigots.

  • These are great tips. I’ve been slowly adding books to my website and noticed that plenty of books have RRP of $150+ when you can get them for 40%+ off this price if you look around.

  • NO – THE BEST Bookstore is the Campus Bookstore at Monash Caulfield – I rented my books last night and save heaps – The boss of the store – I think he is the big boss – came over and not only helped me choose between buyin and rental – he carried my books to the counter – Great Shop – Also online – Chhers Emily and no I dont work there!

  • I concure – The CampusBookstore is excellent – I am based at Monash Clayton but travelled to Caulfield instead – not only cheaper but really good service: You can buy, Buy second hand and rent – they also have buy back thing so you can sell back your books

    I dont work there either

    • buddy, this is a completely unfounded statement, you cant just say things like this that potentially damage a companies reputation. I work at zookal and can ensure you that our titles are sourced from the booklists we recieve from the universities, why would we try and sell students the wrong books?

  • I took my Nephew into the Uni Bookstore Caulfield Monash – they call themselves The Campus Bookstore. I have to say service was impressive and cheaper than the list of books we had from another Monash Uni (???? dont understand that) – I actually had someone carry my books for me from the shelves to the counter. I too was really happy with them.

  • Found this thread – after I got my books. I got them from The Campus Bookstore in Melbourne online and rented them. So easy and arrived the next day with full instructions: All brand new. I highly recommend them lie the other above. I saved $327:00

  • There is a new Discount bookshop in Carlton, they sell university books and they are so cheap. They said they have been around for 4 years, but I have not seen them before! They stock new and used books. They are called encompass books but the signage on the outside says Discount Uni Bookshop?? Anyway they had a pretty good range of books and they were cheap, The guy in the store told me if they get stuck with books they will sometimes go to 40 – 50% off.

    He said they are the cheapest but would beat any other bookshop price if anyone was cheaper.

    Staff were helpful enough.

    here is the site if your around carlton :

  • Just got my 1st Semester Books from The Campus Bookstore I really looked around for the best prices – I ended up with 2 new, 1 used and 2 rental books – overall saved $291 over 3 other bookstores – do your homework and dont be fooled by claims of up to 20% off…..its rubbish. I also took my friend in there and she save $170 for brand new rental books for the first semester. I know it sounds like i am pushing them but I also found out they are a non profit company and their profits go back to students and not the money hungry Uni’s. Free Post too

  • Above – Thanks Shirley. I looked at The Campus Bookstore and rented my textbooks – all up my new books brand new were $525 from the Monash Uni Bookshop then they were $460 from The Campus Bookstore but I rented all but one and got the lot for $265. I also had a look at the “About us” – they are a non profit company and I would rather spend my money with them than the Universities thanks heaps Ell

  • Well I looked at this thread and followed the advise above – here is what I found too:
    Zookal – does not guarantee a new book and on most occasions the books were ex rentals so any links to websites for extra help were gone
    Unidbooks – did not have my books
    Tebbii – MMMM? I will let you find out for yourself – Cheaper, Free Post both ways and all Books guaranteed brand new.
    So my choice was simple and save around $230 from new books. I also liked that they were not part of a University or overseas.

  • I went the rental path this year with my textbooks – I saved about $120 all up (3rd year) I ened up using TheCampusBookstore cheaper, free post, new book, and they knew what they were talking about – Zookal no reply to my question, Tebbi uses second hand books, Hero no stock – very happy with my choice

    • Re: Bookon – careful they are owned by Encompass who set themselves up around the corner from Melbourne Uni Bookstore – known for old editions and ??? books. Stay true to the “On Campus” bookshops. at least you know your books are local and real.

    • Yes I have purchased from this site before, they are legitimate. I purchased a new book and it arrived within a few days. I also noticed that you can buy and sell second hand books – its free for students so I’m going to give that a try

    • Re:Hmmm.. The campus bookstore love here feels verrryyy suspiciously artificial
      It looked that way to me too Awesome – but I could not help myself anyway and had a look they are for real! I reckon there might be a few posts from students they are owned by student group. 2nd semester coming up and I might give the rental thing a go

  • If you’re looking for textbooks, definitely worth checking out Encompass Books in Carlton. I found these guys to be cheapest in prices when compared to all the other bookstores and they don’t charge any membership fees. The guys in store also told me that if you see the price cheaper anywhere else, they will beat it.

  • Got onto this thread and looked at the Rental option this year: I had a good look at them all and found The Campus Bookstore had the best deal. They also had a scholarship for students that qualify you can get your books for free.

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