“a helpful & lucid review site for all things budget” — the new yorker
Amazon Textbooks Store
Where to Buy Amazon Textbooks Store
Buy, rent, or sell textbooks at Amazon.

It's easy to forget that Amazon started out selling books, although not necessarily textbooks. These days the ecommerce behemoth is engaged in a lively trade buying, selling, and renting textbooks.

Amazon sells only new books directly. Opting for used books sends buyers to the marketplace, which hosts third-party sellers. Many books can be purchased or rented in digital format. For two of the three titles in our price comparison, Amazon was the only source with an ebook version available for purchase. Etextbooks can be read on a Kindle ereader or on other devices using the free Kindle app.

Prices for textbook rentals vary by state. According to a report by Inside Higher Ed, books may not be transported across state lines, a policy that may reflect Amazon's fierce battle against state sales taxes. Students who ship a rented book back from one state after taking delivery in another are obligated to pay the book's full price. The rental period typically runs 180 days but may be extended up to one year. Short-term extensions of 15 days are possible.

Distribution is what made Amazon's name, and Prime membership promises free two-day shipping on textbooks and everything else. The company offers college students a starter Prime package, Amazon Student, that's free for six months and then only $49 a year, as opposed to the usual $99. This may seem like just another unneeded expense, but Amazon pads the deal by offering Prime members access to music and instant streaming of movies and TV shows, as well as a large number of Kindle books that can be "borrowed" for free. Students who opt out of membership have the option of free shipping for orders of $35 or more (five to eight business days) or paying for faster shipping.

The book buyback process is a minefield for the industry, and one that Amazon has not escaped despite prices that are generally among the highest. One key difference: Customers don't receive money for buybacks, just an Amazon gift card. That's certainly useful for ordering next term's books (or any number of other things) but also gives Amazon a hold on its customer base. As with competitors, some reviewers air differences of opinion concerning the condition of books sent in for buyback. For the most part, though, reviews posted in Amazon forums reviews indicate that the value owed is credited to customers' accounts quickly and most consider the prices to be fair.

Overall, Amazon's textbook offerings aren't a bad deal, but they do pull consumers into the Amazon universe. If that's where you like to orbit, by all means, hitch a ride. But there's a whole big galaxy awaiting exploration.

by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile) – September 8, 2015
email Sign up for our
Free Newsletter