How To Buy University Textbooks In Australia For Less

How To Buy University Textbooks In Australia For Less

One of the biggest expenses you face when you’re returning to university is textbooks — individual volumes can cost hundreds of dollars in some subjects. Here are a few basic techniques to cut back on those expenses.

Textbooks picture from Shutterstock

Buy Second-Hand

The best-established technique for saving on textbooks is to buy second-hand. This doesn’t always work — if a new edition of a textbook is assigned, working with the older addition is at best an inconvenience as you try to track page references, and at worst means you’ll be learning outdated information. However, in many cases the same texts are assigned year after year.

If your course load is largely fixed, then keep an eye out towards the end of the year for the textbooks you’ll need for the following year — former students will often sell them off. Check campus noticeboards. Many universities also have second-hand bookshops on site. Beyond that, check out Gumtree, eBay and Facebook for listings on the titles you want.

Use The Library Or Share

If your library has a copy of the relevant textbook, you may be able to rely on accessing it there. High-demand textbooks are often only made available for brief periods, so this requires careful planning. It’s not the ideal option, but if a text is stocked in multiple copies, it may be workable.

A variant on this tactic is to share with fellow students. This won’t work if the course relies heavily on a single textbook that’s used every week, but it can be helpful in subjects such as literature where you’re reading a new work each time. I successfully completed an entire year of English courses sharing texts with a friend; we just made sure we weren’t in the same tutorial groups.

Shop Around

If you have to purchase a specific text, your first stop should be our favourite price comparison site, Booko, which will show you the price for any given book at every major Australian and overseas online bookstore. It may seem convenient to buy everything at the campus bookstore, but shopping around can often prove substantially cheaper. Just don’t leave it until the last minute.


Textbook rental means you’re effectively splitting the cost with other students over time. It’s an option I wish had existed when I was at university. These are the active players in the Australian market:

The downsides? You can’t take notes on the texts and you have to keep them in reasonable condition. Check pricing carefully (and across multiple sites): if the difference is minimal, buying new and then selling the book yourself may make more sense.

How do you cut down on textbook expenses? Share your experiences in the comments.


  • All I can say is, second-hand really only works if you’re in a very popular degree. I’m in Economics/International Studies and I found exactly 0 of my textbooks at the second-hand stalls, and while I found quite a few second-hand copies online, only 2 were in my city (and the sellers never contacted me back) and the rest were in Sydney (with sellers who were not open to interstate buyers).

    Other people I know in other humanities courses, or in finance and commerce (the two most popular degrees in the Professions faculty, if the number of second-hand books on sale was anything to go on) got their entire booklist second-hand with minimal difficulty. (Also, if your booklist has changed drastically since last year, don’t even bother looking.)

    It’s rare to find Kindle copies of reference texts, but I did find it for a couple so it’s worth looking if that’s your preference and they’re usually cheaper than bookstores or Unibooks (unless they’re doing an insane discount). If you have to buy from overseas though, buy for the next semester because we all know what shipping times can be like. (This goes double for buying from the UK – if you can afford the express option, take it, because Royal Mail is the slowest possible international shipping around. When I was buying books from Book Depository it wasn’t uncommon for me to wait 4 months or more for them to arrive.)

    Keep in mind also – Unibooks will price-match. I managed to get quite a lot off of several of my books by taking the pricelist from another shop with me. (I don’t know if Unibooks operates interstate or not.) They will only price-list for new books though.

    • and if you’re buying them second hand, get in as fast as possible. A huge amount of books are snapped up either before semester starts or in the first week.

  • Thanks!! Wish I’d come across Booko a couple of weeks back tho. Could’ve saved ~$200

  • Many universities subscribe to e-book services that will provide full-text access for the more commonly used textbooks. It’s typically illegal to download the whole thing, but IP laws usually permit keeping a copy of a section or chapter (esp if that’s <10% of the whole book).

    Since most universities also provide off-site access to these services and it’s rare to need all the material in the textbook at once, this can be done on a demand basis. Almost like streaming …

    • The ebook services we subscribe to typically don’t allow unlimited simultaneous access to a book. We usually have 1, 3 or 5 user limits. Fully unlimited access is rarer as it is usually very expensive. Book publishers are normally pretty tight when it comes to allowing access to known text books.

      10% or one chapter is ok to copy. Your lecturer will sometimes arrange for the library to host this material as an online resource. However that one chapter or 10% must be adhered to university wide. So we can never have two chapters up at the same time for example. Even if different lecturers have requested different chapters from one book. That’s pretty rare, but it does happen.

  • Ok, now find me a cheap way to get the $500-at-discount of paper, pens and pencils I need for industrial design.

  • I bought my reference books from amazon for less than 1/2 the price of the cheapest place in Aus. 6 week shipping got them here within a fortnight too!

  • Another option is:

    I finally had a clean out and put my textbooks up for sale there from my first degree that I finished in 2003. It’s taken 12 months, but I’ve managed to sell about 6/10 despite their age.

    For my current degree I definitely be organised and use the library.

  • Texts become obsolete quickly in Finance and Taxation so old copies are no help.

    • Yeah all of my teacher specify particular editions/years for our books so they won’t be out of date and all the secondhand copies tend to be years old

  • Academic librarian here.

    Do not depend on the library for textbooks. At my uni we have a policy to only buy a small number of textbooks. The uni expects you to have access to your own copy.

    Despite this every term there is a run on the libraries copies. You will find they are almost always out with a large number of holds on them.

    So why don’t we buy more if there is such huge demand? Because the only way we could reduce the demand is if we bought a single copy for every student taking the class. If we did that for every text book in every class we’d have no room on the shelves for any other material. At that point we would stop being a library and just be a text book repository.

    Not that it would matter. Buying all those text books would blow our budget for buying other material anyway.

    Ebooks aren’t the answer from a library point of view. Our vendors charge for multiple user licenses. While cheaper, (not always.), buying that many would still be expensive.

    We would prefer to spend our budget on other resources around your subject area to assist you with your assignments.

  • The biggest second hand site for textbooks in Australia is It has 100,000 books and 500,000 members. It’s also free.

    You are best to sell book immediately after the semester you used them. Textbooks age fast. Waiting an extra semester will reduce the price you get. Also, 80% of sales on the site happen in the first 2 weeks of each semester. So don’t wait too long to buy or sell.

    Last tip – arbitrage isbn’s. You lecturer will give you an isbn number for your book. But the publisher’s often release the identical book under many different isbn’s. For example an “international edition”, a “bundled edition”, a “sydney uni edition” a “melbourne uni edition”. They do this to minimise secondhand sales. As long as the Title, Authors and Edition are the same – its the same textbook – even if the isbn is different. Knowing that means you can broaden you search and often get a better price.

  • I found the cheapest price for my books on, they had eBooks too which were wayyyy cheaper than print books.

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