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It’s about that time that students will begin to flock back to the Boston area and move into their apartments and dorms.  As they prepare for classes, one of the more expensive purchases will be their course materials, including the very expensive textbooks.  According to an article in USA Today, textbook prices have jumped up 82% in the past ten years.

The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation conducted a college textbook survey, finding that students who rent textbooks or purchase textbooks online can save nearly 50 percent over students that buy new textbooks from school bookstores.  Students have to buy whatever textbook they’ve been assigned, so we want to remind both students and parents that they do have options and the opportunity to save some money.

Pile of BooksWe looked at prices charged for new, used, and eBooks at school bookstores and compared them to prices charged by sellers on Amazon.com, and the Google Play and Kindle stores.  We also looked at the cost for renting new, used and eBooks.

According to the survey, the most expensive option was purchasing new textbooks from the school bookstore.  The lowest price options were: renting used from the school, renting an eBook from the school, or buying used on Amazon.com. A new ninth edition Social Psychology book at bookstores costs $250, while prices for a new copy of the same book started at $175 on Amazon.com – a 30 percent savings.

In many cases, buying new on Amazon.com from individual third-party sellers cost $100 less than buying new from the school bookstore. Prices of eBooks purchased through the Google Play or Kindle stores ranged from 20 percent to 44 percent lower than the full price for new books purchased through the school bookstore.

Students need to think critically before they buy or rent textbooks.  Think about your study habits, whether you like to write in your book, and whether you’ll want to keep it or sell it back at the end of the semester.  Just remember, once there’s a new edition of that textbook, your chances of selling it back to the school drop dramatically.

Before buying all the books listed on your course syllabus, check online to see if some smaller texts, like short stories or famous speeches, are available online for free.  Also consider sharing a large expensive textbook with classmates, or borrowing it from the library.  Most libraries keep at least one copy of each textbook, but these are typically not available to borrow and can only be used inside the library.

Make sure that, wherever you buy your book, you keep the receipts and know the return and refund policies.  If a book is shrink-wrapped, many retailers will not accept a return if the wrapping has been opened.  Similarly, don’t write in the book until you know that you’ll be keeping it.

If you order online, check the comments and the seller’s ratings.  Also double check the delivery time.  You don’t want to be start the semester already behind because you’re still waiting for that book to be delivered.

Another good tip is to look into softcover options.  Our survey examined prices for hardcover texts, and showed that many books cost upwards of $200.  Softcover books can cost up to 15 percent less than the hardcover books, and have the added benefit of being lighter and easier to carry around campus.

Textbooks are a large part of the college investment, and consumers should carefully consider these options and not simply rely on the school bookstore.

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