How to save money when shopping for college textbooks

By Marcy RoblesConsumer Reports

College textbooks. For students like me, they're a necessary, expensive evil. College students estimated they spent about $638 on textbooks and other required materials for the 2013-2014 academic year, according to the National Association of College Stores. The College Board says that the amount a student spent on books and supplies in the 2013-2014 academic year was about $1,200. And, according to a 2013 Government Accountability Office report, college textbook prices are increasing at a rate three times faster than inflation.

What can you do to save money?

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I then chose five textbook vendors: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookbyte, Chegg, and TextbookRush. On those sites, I searched and compared the costs to buy the five books in new and used print versions, to rent them, purchase e-textbook formats, and other options. I also researched how much it cost to buy each textbook directly from the publisher.

Learn where to get the best prices on used college textbooks and check our back-to-school shopping guide.

Even though all the textbooks in our study come in e-book versions, the textbooks were, with two exceptions, available for rental from the vendors in print format only, not as e-textbooks. That was aggravating. I think today’s generation is so connected digitally that it has become accustomed to getting what it needs in the time it takes to do a download.

According to a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. students conducted by Bookboon, an online book publishing company, 57.8 percent prefer digital textbooks over the printed versions. So it was a shock to me to find that four of the five sellers had none of the five titles available for rental in e-textbook format. Amazon was the only seller with an e-textbook available for rent. And that was for just one of the titles.

`Don’t forget to search for textbooks directly from the publisher. I found that some publishers conveniently offered textbooks in a variety of formats. Wiley & Sons, for example, provided a loose-leaf version of "Human Geography in Action" so students could insert it into a binder. Such a choice can be less heavy to carry than the regular textbook.

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