I learned early on in my college career (though perhaps not early enough) that buying textbooks at the campus bookstore is rarely a way to get the best deal. The biggest reason to shop at one of these stores is convenience. If you want to pay for that convenience, that’s great! I, however, prefer to shop around for a lower price.
To get the best price, first, you need to find out the ISBN for each of your required textbooks. One way to do this is to go to your university bookstore’s website. Many have online forms that allow you to enter your classes so you can purchase or reserve your textbooks online. Instead of adding the books to my cart, though, I make a note of the textbook’s title, edition number, author, and ISBN.
Next, begin searching textbook sites, textbook meta-searches, and my favorite, half.com. Use the ISBNs to ensure you are searching for the correct edition, since each edition has its own ISBN. Note the best price of each book at each of the sites you visit, and don’t forget to include shipping charges. Keep in mind the used book condition you require. (This is your personal preference. Some people don’t mind “acceptable” books; others prefer “like new.”) I like to compile the pricing information into an Excel spreadsheet, but using pen and paper never fails!
After you make your mini-database, check to see which of the sites you visited are available through your favorite rewards and rebates sites. I used BigCrumbs, which offers rebates at half.com, eCampus.com, and other online bookstores. (BigCrumbs (that’s my referral link, btw) offers a % back on purchases at many other online retailers as well, including eBay.) I compared my books’ prices at eCampus.com and half.com, while considering their rebate percentages, shipping prices, free shipping offers, etc. You can add this additional info into your database to get the most accurate pricing.
For me, the winning combination ended up being half.com through BigCrumbs, which gives me 4.5% back. Your winning combination will vary because you will have different textbooks than I do–among other variables. Also, don’t do your research one week and go back the next week to purchase. You’ll find that your best prices will have changed as copies sell.
I can say from experience that I have consistently found the best prices at half.com for most books, most semesters. I still shop around, though. It really doesn’t take that much time, and each semester I have saved a significant amount compared to the campus bookstore’s prices. This year, the campus bookstore would have charged around $300 for my books and I paid approximately $248 after discounts and shipping.
(Sorry, med students, I know you don’t want to hear me whine about prices!:))