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Cheap College Textbooks Buying Guide

We researched a number of players in the cheap online textbook marketplace and found several that earn more than a passing grade and one whose performance is below average. Note, though, that even our top picks are the objects of stinging criticism about delivery snafus and the buyback/return process for purchased and rented books.

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That said, there are hundreds of happy customers out there.

Textbooks.com and BookRenter.com stand at the head of the cheap textbooks class. Students like the generous buyback policy at Textbooks.com and say service is fast and reliable even as some grumble about delivery and communication mess-ups. The overall assessment of BookRenter.com is positive, as well: the price is right, books arrive on time, and returns are easy, although gripes surface about poor customer service, especially when returning books. Chegg.com and TextbooksRus.com claim the No. 2 spots for best cheap textbook sites. Users have mostly good things to say about Chegg.com, but some complain about late deliveries and shoddy customer service. Complimentary reviews attach to TextbooksRus.com for speedy delivery, low prices, and used books in good condition, although some express surprise that the site sells international editions despite clear notice of the practice. ValoreBooks.com picked up demerits that reflect a business model built on third-party book sellers and rental providers. Prices are a lure and students report satisfactory dealings with the company but say delivery problems abound and late fees are too often assessed on rental books already returned.

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In addition to the cheap college textbook sites on our list, the field includes sites such as eCampus.com, BookByte.com, CollegeBookRenter.com, and the heavy-weights Amazon and Barnes & Noble. There's also the burgeoning ebook sales and rental market for cheap textbooks and interactive learning resources. Some of the names worth knowing here include CourseSmart.com, Inkling.com, and Kno.com, as well as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Sites that traffic in print copies of cheap textbooks sell them outright or rent them for a set period of time. Cheap textbook sites typically claim you'll save anywhere from 40 percent to 90 percent compared to campus stores. Textbook price comparison sites, such as BigWords.com, Bookfinder.com, AffordaBook.com, TextbookRentals.com, TextbookPriceCompare.com, and SwoopThat.com can point you to the cheapest source.

In the end, we found that no cheap college textbook website consistently offers the best deals in terms of lowest purchase/rental prices or highest buyback prices. Nor is one strategy (buying or renting hard copies or buying or renting electronic copies) the optimal approach for every book you need. Price certainly matters. But your bottom line will also be affected by other considerations, including shipping fees, return and buyback policies, the buying versus renting conundrum, and whether to opt for a new, used, or electronic textbook.

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Textbook Prices by CampusBooks.com

by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile)

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