Buy Books Online: Tips from a Senior


Attention freshmen and your parents: don’t drain your bank accounts by buying the often exceedingly over-priced books sold at the campus bookstore. Be smart, do your research, and shop online. It’s too often overheard on campus, “Wow! I just paid $150 for this stupid book!” “Hah! Well, I went online and found it for $80!”

If you follow a few tactics, and read this article, the mystic world of buying-books-cheap will become a clear, concise process that should in most cases yield gratifying results every semester.

The first major question to ask is whether or not you need the book. Sometimes professors “require” books that aren’t actually needed for the course-this is something you may not know until the first day of class when you get your syllabus and talk to the professor. What’s worse is that sometimes you’ll get halfway through the semester and not even crack open the book and realize you have wasted lots of money buying the book in the first place.

The best way to circumvent this is to not buy the book until after the class has started. If you’re leery of this idea and have to have the book for the first day of class, then do not open it until you’re absolutely sure that you need it! In addition, make friends with upperclassmen-they can be quite frank when it comes to telling you about professors and/or classes that need books.

Also, realize that books are often very expensive because what you buy is the newest edition of the book-sometimes all they do to make a new edition is add a little more commentary, edit a little text, and add a few new photos. The easiest way to save money is to ask your professor before (by way of e-mail, etc.) if you need the newest edition of the book.

Sometimes the answer is “yes.” Many times, the professor lists the newest edition of the book just because it’s available, not because it’s essential to the course material. Buying earlier editions can save tons of money since the demand, and need, for those books dramatically drops when a new edition is released.

Once you know you need the book, the next step is to shop for it. The big disclaimer is this: most books are shipped through media mail and may take up to two weeks to receive. Thus, it’s sometimes a gamble if you’re going to really need to rely on the book during the first couple weeks of the course. But have no fear, use the buddy system! Sometimes sharing a book, or borrowing it from an upperclassman can get you through this period while you wait for your book.

The major piece to buying your books online is to have the ISBN number for the book that you are buying. This number is located near the barcode of the book you’re going to buy and is specific to that exact edition of the book-it is like the social security numbers for books. Getting this number is the tricky part. Many people have been scolded by walking into the bookstore and trying to find the ISBN number of the book. ISBN numbers are public information and are available in plain sight on the covers of books. If you can’t escape the bookstore wrath with ISBN numbers, try to at least get the correct title, author, and edition. It’s very critical to be as accurate as possible; having the ISBN number is the most accurate piece of information.

Once you have as much information, research is the next big thing. There are comparative shopping sites, such as which will compare the price for that specific book from different sites. The most often big hit sites are and, while it’s good to check a lesser-known site called When price searching, do not forget to add on shipping costs when comparing prices.

It cannot be stressed enough how important research is to find books online. Look at the ratings of the sellers to make sure they are reliable. Please, don’t forget to check the bookstore prices! Sometimes they actually do have the better deals! It’s also recommended that you do spend a little bit more to get better editions of books you’ll be using for multiple semesters.

Don’t forget that upperclassmen may be eager to get rid of that pesky chemistry textbook or that collection of dry English novels; try to make friends with upperclassmen who are in a similar major and see if they would be willing to sell, or even donate, those books to you.
The most important time in the book market, besides actually using the book for your studies, is selling it back. Do not sell back all of your books! Keep the ones that relate to your major and that you might need to draw information from again, especially if you have your eye on graduate school. But for those books you might be selling back, here are some hearty tips: don’t open a plastic-wrapped book that you don’t need. Also, keep the book in as best condition as you can; avoid writing in books that you feel like you’d be better selling.
Many times people walk into the bookstore at the end of the semester and try to sell back their books and get the response “sorry we aren’t buying that book back for reason xyz.” Don’t get disparaged. Remember how you bought your book online? Sell it back online! It’s not that hard, and sites like make it quite easy to list it and ship it. It’s not unheard of for a non-returnable book to be sold for over $30 online. Also, find underclassmen that might need the book after you and try selling it to them-or even donating for that matter. A little kindness every now and then never hurt anyone.

While the bookstore might not appreciate this sort of information, its sole purpose is to guide you, the reader, to make more informed choices as a student and as a consumer. College is a learning experience and buying books is no different!