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.

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