Textbook Shopping

Textbook Shopping


Grillo update: 2/2/2015

I originally wrote this article for The Pacific Index at Pacific University. I was inspired by my father’s words and most memorable quote. “There is no greater moving religious experience in life than cheating a cheater”.  I find the information herein to be so helpful that I like to republish it every once in a while to keep people up to date on what the best ways not to get conned are. If you only find 10% of this useful, then that’s 10% more than what you came in with.

My very first fan-mail came from this article and the lady told me how she used the money saved to buy herself a new ipod.  Shoot me a line here or on Facebook [check out Barkley Ordal; my dog handles the FaceBook page] to tell me what you did with the money you saved. See my contact form!


Saving Dough by Hitting the Books

By John Grillo


It’s that time again. Students everywhere are being railroaded into buying books from their university store at exorbitant prices that force millions of American college students further into debt.  Many students complain about the ridiculous mark-ups on books and how it is a giant scam, but few offer any alternatives on how to get around the campus bookstore.

So it’s time that someone showed us all how to put costs back into a reasonable range. By using this article as a guide, you can save hundreds of dollars on course books.

There are many ways around the bookstore and the farther you go, the more money you are likely to save. To start, the most important thing to obtain is typically the ISBN. The International Standard Book Number is a 10 or 13 digit number that denotes a specific volume across the entire globe. Think of it as a magic calling card—you have the number, and the book instantly appears. But having more information is always better.

The best tactic is to go to the source: The professors. Before the start or end of your next term, always contact the professor of your next classes and ask what books are required for the coming classes. Call and write back every month until you get the answers. I do it about every 2 weeks or so.

There are some possible snags though: One, the professor could be new. Many colleges shamefully use adjunct faculty, teachers brought in specifically at part-time jobs or to teach a specific course at the university. So this means that teacher either won’t know the book being taught, hasn’t decided on a book, or is not easily reached with provided contact information. This reason alone is why so many get suckered into pricey texts as they come with pre-done quizzes and exams and make their lives easier. But the same could also be said for the regular faculty. Many professors don’t bother to check their e-mail when on summer break. Most professors I talked to for my classes simply didn’t return my missives or told me that they hadn’t decided on the book yet. The same applies with calling the bookstore. I still recommend calling early and checking the website and then calling the professor as a start.


When you have the information, the best tactic is to look for the book online. The Internet is the best way to get textbooks for cheap but the problem is where to look? Who is reputable?  The following is a list of great websites and other money-saving options that are roughly ranked from the most expensive to the least. All price examples in the list use the same book, International Business by Charles Hill (ISBN 9780073381343). [Warning: info here is very dated and is kept for illustrative purposes only. And as always, you use at your own risk].

  1. OccupyTheBookStore: We have a new gold standard here, people. Occupy The Bookstore is an app made for the google chrome desktop browser that overlays your screen with intel on cheaper copies of the book elsewhere and sorts them by price and gives you the link right to them.

It truly puts the power of the free market at work. I’ve installed it in mine and haven’t regretted it yet. But don’t stop there! There is always a bargain somewhere!

And show the programmers some love and try to donate enough for them to enjoy a burger and beer. Lord knows they earned it. In their reddit AMA, they faced off against the textbook companies and showed how they won; the app only changes the browser’s information, not the server at all.

  1. Amazon: a fantastic wholesale site. It gives one a picture of the cover, ISBN numbers, sorts prices and new and used books can be searched individually. Hard to beat, except for the British version of the site amazon.co.uk. Even after currency conversion and shipping costs, it usually comes out to be cheaper than the US version of the store. My International Business textbook, through the amazon.uk site would have been $85.69. American amazon.com would have been $125.99.
    1. Other book-buying websites include: com/, powells.com, alibris.com, textbooks.com. collegetextbooks.com, bestwebbuys.com are my favorites because they are portal sites that can also cross-check many books for you. There are a lot more, so look around!
  2. Buy the international edition/version of the textbook: AKA the “Gray Market”. Supposedly, these don’t exist or if they do, they’re “not for sale in the US.” The information between the “domestic” and “international” editions is usually the exact same. The only difference in my case was that one is hardcover and the other was a paperback. Buyer beware, though: most bookstores will not buy the international edition of the book or only give you pennies on the dollar if they do. International Editions of the book use a different ISBN [978-0070598690]. Most can be found on e-bay; just look outside of the continental US and use ‘international edition’ as keywords. Still, the savings are often considerable.
  3. Criagslist: you might be able to post your book online, sell it for a decent price or even arrange a book-for-book swap with someone else. This is akin to putting a few fliers on the walls around campus, which is also a good approach. PCC students: Don’t forget your student union! Buy from fellow students!
  4. Ebay: Use at your own risk. Read the listing. There are some unscrupulous booksellers who will intentionally use a fraudulent ISBN number and sell either a different edition of the book or ship you something else entirely. Try to stay within the US when buying things—it makes returning them a tad easier. I bought the book for $45. Most international editions I bought were through here.
  5. Book swaps: Arrange a one-to-one book swap on campus that will save people lots of money. The student union is a good source of this; PCC has one at the beginning of every quarter.
  6. Co-buy the book with someone. You did this with ‘everybody’ at the library already.
  7. Rent the book: Go to the library! Both College library on campus and the local library and see if they have the book. If they do, you can check it out and renew it and never have to pay for it in the first place. Make use of the interlibrary loan systems and obtain a book this way. The same applies for the local or county library. SUMMIT and WorldCat are also good systems. You already pay with your taxes, put them to work!
  8. Rent the book part two: There are now websites that will rent the textbooks that at reasonable prices. com is the best of these if only because they also plant a tree every time a book is rented. Two other sites worth noting are campusbookrentals.com and bookrenter.com. The price savings are enormous. Chegg’s price was $74.22, and that was to rent the book for the whole semester. The return date would be 1/02/10.
  9. Torrents: I couldn’t in good conscience tell you to torrent textbooks. That would be a crime. I couldn’t tell you to use a VPN so you don’t get caught, or to look at sites like torrentfreaks.com, or use coffee shops and libraries to mask your location. What kind of man do you think I am! The Pacific Index originally removed this piece of the advice list, but now I’m free to argue against the use of such techniques. I mean, if you do this and the one below, some soulless sales man might have to cut and only keep two  Will somebody please think of those poor salesman?
  10. Google: [ filetype:pdf   nameOfBookHere ]. The book name could be in quotation marks or not. You’ll have great luck finding snippets of the books or the whole textbooks in .pdf format.  Again, user beware. I’m only telling you of things you can do.  And really, the filetype:pdf trick is one of my favorite SEO tricks.

But in all seriousness, liberating a digital copy for purposes of format shifting [remember time-shifting with the supreme court?], then returning the book absent-mindedly and sharing copies of the books via Bluetooth and sharing the books like hotcakes via pairing phones/devices and then deleting the permissions afterward? I don’t know…it’s like, a direct mockery of the Forced ARTificial Scarcity (FARTS) that so many markets in America depend on! Releasing knowledge into the world would enlighten people. Geez, what next? Collections of words on movable printed type to bring enlightenment to others and overthrowing the landed gentry? I already have enough problems in life. I’m not going to advocate for anything of questionable legality or extra legality.


Some other useful tips to remember when shopping for books or selling them back:

  1. Arrive to the bookstore early and often to sell your books back. Selling just before a final exam one of the best times.
  2. Book buybacks get progressively worse as time goes on.
  3. Have all your information before you start hunting.
  4. Just because a portal or a cross-checking site gives you options for the best price doesn’t mean they’re always correct. Like buying an airline ticket, it’s important to use as many sources as possible; sometimes looking at the source the website is claiming can yield a cheaper book, but not always.
  5. Use a credit card. Hey, some cards have great rewards! It’s how I bought my tablet for dirt cheap!
  6. Buying books online is typically fast, easy and safe.