Here’s How You Can Save Money on Textbooks

College students - we’ve got some great news. We know you’re accustomed to hearing about price hikes, tuition increases and rising college costs. But, when it comes to textbooks and course materials, the amount you’re spending is actually going down, thanks to a variety of new low-cost alternatives. In the 2014-2015 school year, college students spent an annual average of $563 on textbooks and course materials, according to the National Association of College Stores. That’s down from $701 in 2007-2008, despite the fact students are still buying the same amount of course materials.

According to our higher education division, which has been selling books for more than 140 years and today manages over 1,200 campus bookstores, the best way to determine how to acquire textbooks and course materials for the fall 2015 semester is to weigh the pros and cons of the growing collection of affordable options. According to John C. Hoffman, Vice President Business Intelligence, Follett Corporation, this chart illustrates the typical potential savings a student could realize for a $100 textbook.   


$100 Book New Used Rental Digital Custom Savings Programs
Student Cost $100 $75 $50-$65 $40-$60 $30


Here’s what you need to know to choose the right option:

New textbooks

Pros: If you have the money and want to keep a book forever, then buying it new is your best bet. Generally this applies to primary textbooks within your major that you’ll reference repeatedly, mark up with notes, and keep even after college.

Cons: Because new books carry the highest cost, be sure you actually want to keep them. If it’s a first edition, used copies will be hard to find. If the content of the book is likely to change over time, you may want to consider other options

Used textbooks

Pros: For those who want to avoid paying full price for a new book, used textbooks sell for roughly 25 percent less, and you can choose to keep them when you’re done or sell them again to recoup some of the cost to achieve even greater savings.  

Cons: While used textbooks are cheaper, they may come complete with notes and highlights from the previous owners. Also, not all used books come with supplemental materials required by professors, such as an online application passcode, DVD or worksheets.

Textbook rentals

Pros: Students who are even more cost-conscious can rent textbooks at discounts of, on average, 35 to 50 percent (all the way up to 80 percent off at Follett campus stores). This is great for people on a budget.

Cons: While savings are potentially deep, students have to return the book on or before a set date – which is usually tied to finals week. Also, some companies don’t allow you to highlight or make notes in a rented book, and late fees could apply if it is not returned on time.  In some cases, you’ll have the option to buy that rented book, but your total out-of-pocket cost may be higher than if you had purchased it used.

Digital books

Pros: Accessing your textbooks online can save anywhere between 40 percent and 60 percent compared to buying a new book. Programs like BryteWave from Follett have rolled textbooks and study tools into one product, giving students the ability to highlight text, take notes, and organize notes using your existing laptop, tablet, or phone.  So if you’re mobile, always studying on-the-go, and accessing your education from multiple locations, the digital option might be best.

Cons: We’re stretching to come up with cons for this one. Make sure your devices are charged so you can access your textbook whenever you need it. And, yes, you may miss getting highlighter all over your hands, or warming up those heating pads for your sore back every night after carrying around your heavy books all day. 

Custom Programs

Pros: Today, more and more schools are offering the option of including the cost of required materials directly in tuition and fees.  This puts materials in the hands of students for the first day of class, and most times, at deeper discounts than what’s available online. 

Cons: You may have to do a little research to find out about these deals, but it will be worth the time and effort. And you’ve had plenty of practice doing research in your classes.

If you’re overwhelmed by all these options, relax. Mix types and formats of textbooks to create a backpack each semester that matches your budget and career goals.  If that economics textbook is core to your studies as a business major, buy it new and keep it for years and reference it later. But because that English class is not likely to be core to future economists, save money by renting that big book of poetry and give it back at winter break.  Remember most digital content licenses expire - and no doubt so will your computer - so if you really want a book as a reference, go for the hard copy.

If you have questions, we’re here to help talk you through this process. Follow us on Twitter @FollettNews and join the conversation! 

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