Better Than the Bookstore: Best Sites for College Textbooks

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SAVE BIG BUCKS ON BOOKS

College students shopping for textbooks at the campus bookstore are likely to start the year with a case of sticker shock. One remedy: textbook websites and apps. Although Amazon is the most popular, savvy student shoppers are taking advantage of ever more options for buying and renting new, used, and digital textbooks online. Many sites also buy back textbooks at the end of the term, an easy way for students to put a few bucks toward next year's books. Cheapism.com compared full-service textbook websites to find reliable options that save students money. Here are the top picks for 2016, as well as a few other recommended sites that specialize in price comparison, ebooks, or buybacks.
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FOR COMPARING PRICES: BOOKSPRICE

Cheapism's research found that no single vendor consistently delivers the best pricing. Turning to a comparison site with a list of required texts in hand is an efficient way to find the cheapest source for each book. BooksPrice provides a round-up of the best available online prices for any books searched on its website or mobile app.
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FOR COMPARING PRICES: OCCUPY THE BOOKSTORE

Occupy the Bookstore is a unique Google Chrome browser extension. As users shop for course materials on their college bookstore's website, the plugin provides a side-by-side comparison of prices available from online retailers.
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FOR COMPARING PRICES: BIGWORDS

Bigwords has been called a "Kayak for textbooks." It lets users specify search preferences (new, used, rental, international editions), load a virtual book bag, and amuse themselves with onscreen jokes while the searchbot finds the dealers with the lowest prices for each title.
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FOR EBOOKS: VITALSOURCE

In many ways, etextbooks replicate their print counterparts. Pagination is the same, and students can highlight and make notes. They can also search the text. Ebooks from VitalSource (formerly CourseSmart) can be read online or offline using a web browser or the VitalSource Bookshelf app for iOS, Android, Chrome, and Kindle. The site also offers interactive material with links to associated websites, online homework and quizzes, and videos associated with some texts for a price.
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FOR EBOOKS: INTEL EDUCATION STUDY

After buying or renting an etextbook from Intel Education Study, customers can use the proprietary app for iOS, Android, and Windows to read and interact with the text. Books are accessible offline and can be synced across devices. Notes, highlighting, and bookmarks are compiled into a study guide for exams. Students can also monitor their study habits by tracking time spent reading and other stats.
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CHEAPISM TOP PICK: BOOKRENTER

Although BookRenter maintains a marketplace where students can buy books from third-party sellers, renting (hard copies and ebooks) is the company's specialty. Rental periods range from 30 to 125 days. Standard shipping is free both ways.
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CHEAPISM TOP PICK: CHEGG

Chegg offers print and digital textbooks for sale, rent, or buyback. Customers waiting for books to arrive in the mail receive access to the ebook version for seven days. The company markets a range of additional student services, such as access to online tutors and homework help for a list of more than 9,000 textbooks, with step-by-step solutions to the problems in books purchased or rented through the site.
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CHEAPISM TOP PICK: ECAMPUS

Students who buy, rent, download, or sell textbooks on eCampus can sign up for a loyalty program and earn money off future orders. Customers use the eCampus.com Reader for iOS, Android, and Windows devices to read digital textbooks. Ebooks are available for seven days to students with hard copies coming in the mail. The site offers a buyback program and the option to list texts on the eCampus.com Marketplace for a 15 percent commission.
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CHEAPISM TOP PICK OVERALL: TEXTBOOKRUSH

High ratings and low prices distinguish this popular textbook sale and rental site, which also does big business in textbook buybacks. TextbookRush offers free shipping on orders that exceed $35, and many customers say the delivery speed is true to the company's name. The site also has study tools such as summary briefs and a subscription service that provides guided textbook solutions to help with homework and exams.
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THE END OF THE LINE: SELLING BACK BOOKS

All our top picks, with the exception of BookRenter, provide buyback options for unloading books when courses end. Students can use aggregators such as BooksPrice and Bigwords to compare offers, and sites such as BookScouter are specifically dedicated to comparing buyback vendors. But the highest quote isn't always the best choice; resellers want to make sure they actually get the money that's been promised in a timely manner. Two reputable buyback sites are Cash4Books and relative newbie BooksRun. Both receive ratings of 9.2 out of 10 on Trustpilot, and BooksRun gets particular praise for fair prices and prompt payment via check or PayPal.

Elizabeth Sheer

Elizabeth Sheer is a Brooklyn-based writer and researcher. In addition to researching and writing about household appliances and other consumer items, Elizabeth draws on her history of preparing cooking-related articles to conduct taste tests on all things delicious.

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