Ways to save on college textbooks
Back-to-school shopping has started, and for college students and their parents that means figuring out how to pay for at least one big expense: textbooks.
The average student at a four-year public college spends about $1,200 per year on course books and materials, according to the College Board, a nonprofit organization whose members are made up of colleges and educational institutions.
From 2002 to 2012, textbook prices rose at an average rate of 6 percent annually, or about three times the rate of inflation, the Government Accountability Office says.
Critics say the frequent rollout of updated editions, often with little new content, has helped drive up prices. Workbooks and other materials also inflate costs.
Because of the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, publishers are now required to inform college faculty about substantial changes to a book's content, along with price.
And schools must list a book's price and International Standard Book Number (IBSN) in course-registration materials.
The idea is that, with more information, faculty and students should be able to make cost-saving choices. Here are a few options:
Shop online. Punch a book's ISBN, its unique identifying numeric code, into a search engine and you can easily compare prices. It's worth shopping around.
Students taking Intro to Biology this fall at the University of Oklahoma, for example, will need the textbook Campbell Biology. A new copy of the latest edition runs $241 at the college bookstore. But you can buy the book used at the bookstore for $181.
A search on sites such as Affordabook.com, Bigwords.com, and BookFinder.com turned up even better deals, as low as $30.
The drawbacks: Shipping times and costs will vary. Although many online sellers allow refunds within 21 days of purchase, not all do. And used books may lack CDs or electronic codes that allow you to access course content online. Those have to be bought separately.
Rent the books. Almost all 3,000 members of the National Association of College Stores have book-rental programs.
Many rental agreements last a full semester, including final exam periods. And when the term is up, you simply return the book. No storing or reselling it.
The drawbacks: Rental costs are comparatively inexpensive, but you have to return books by their due date and keep them in good shape (light highlighting and note-taking is usually fine). Otherwise, additional fees apply. And because rentals are often used books, they may lack those supplemental materials mentioned earlier, like electronic access codes.
Go electronic. Digital books can be rented or bought, again for a fraction of the cost of buying new. You can access the text on most devices, and there are tools that let you highlight, take notes, etc.
The drawbacks: You have to be comfortable with reading electronically - not a stretch for most young adults these days, but still something to consider.