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To get an accurate take on textbook prices, we checked out selling and buyback prices on print copies of new and used books as well as prices on rentals and electronic editions. The sites we searched included Textbooks.com, Chegg.com, BookRenter.com, TextbooksRus.com, ValoreBooks.com, eCampus.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kno.com, CourseSmart.com, and Inkling.com.
The bottom line conclusion: No one site always offers the best textbook prices, regardless whether you're buying, renting, selling or seeking a print or digital copy (see chart). Any assessment of online textbook purveyors based on textbook prices clearly depends on which books you want. Note, too, that prices are extremely fluid in this market, and those we found in mid-summer aren't necessarily the prices you'll find today.
For example, on the day we searched, ValoreBooks.com posted the lowest textbook prices on Campbell Biology and Marketing Management and Chegg.com was cheapest for Managerial Economics. For used books, Amazon boasted the cheapest textbook prices on the biology and marketing texts and TextbooksRus.com was the low-price leader for the economics title. The prize for cheapest semester-long rental went to ValoreBooks.com for Campbell Biology and to BookRenter.com for Managerial Economics and Marketing Management. The best buyback textbook prices belonged to TextbooksRus.com for the biology book, BookRenter.com for the economics book, and Chegg.com for the marketing book.
We also compared the cost of renting and buying electronic versions of these titles, but they're not all available as both rentals and purchases through the etextbook providers we focused on.
Another difficulty in identifying the leader in cheap textbook pricing is that all the sites that sell, buy, and rent hard copies also maintain a marketplace where independent booksellers (including individuals) set their own prices. We did not price out our sample list in these marketplaces.
Despite the grousing and grumbling that shows up in reviews of textbook websites about a variety of issues, scores of students gleefully report wallet-stuffing savings accrued through online textbook vendors. One tallied textbook price cuts worth $231 on new books obtained through Chegg.com rather than the college bookstore, according to a post at Reseller Ratings. Another review at the same site says dealing with TextbooksRus.com netted a $100 savings over the cost of used books at the school store. At Epinions, yet another student reports a textbook price for a used copy of a tax fundamentals book was $40 cheaper at Textbooks.com than at the campus store.
New vs. Used Textbooks. Most textbook websites sell new and used textbooks. Textbook prices for pre-owned copies are obviously cheaper than for new and the range of comments posted on review sites indicates that many students appreciate the good deals available in the secondhand market.
With a new book, you know what you're getting -- the surprise (to some buyers) international edition from TextbooksRus.com notwithstanding. (New books listed at TextbooksRus.com are international editions that may include text and supplements that differ from the U.S. edition.) With a cheaper used textbook, however, you may pay a price of a different sort. Used textbooks often come with defects, such as missing pages, excessive highlighting, handwritten notes. While that may be OK with you, there are plenty of students for whom it's not. At one review site, some customers of Textbooks.com gripe about used textbooks with blacked-out words, pages with writing, and one book that was suffused with the odor of smoke. Note, too, that an already damaged book is easy to ruin further and might net less money in a book buyback. For all the sites we looked at, there were at least some complaints about the disappointing condition of used textbooks.
Another issue pertaining to used textbooks: You won't receive an access code for resources available only online and might not get supplemental materials like CDs or manuals. Sometimes you can get the access code through customer service, as with Amazon, or by going directly to the publisher, but you'll be charged a hefty fee ($50 is not unheard of). One student reports on Epinions that the posting for a used Spanish textbook by TextbooksRus.com mentioned a manual and access code, neither of which showed up with the book itself. If you need these materials, you might luck out; otherwise, be prepared to pay up or do without.
Virtually all textbook sellers also host a marketplace where anyone can sell used textbooks at cheap prices. Indeed, ValoreBooks.com is little more than an aggregation of 18,000-plus book vendors and rental providers. Complaints abound about third party sellers in general. Students cite problems such as missed delivery dates, books in poor condition, and editions that don't match the posting. Another source of grievances stems from misunderstanding about who the actual seller is. Problems must be resolved and buybacks negotiated with the third party, not the site where the book was located, and many unhappy customers report limited or no resolution -- in part because they're unable to reach the seller.Textbook Prices by CampusBooks.com
Textbook Sale Sites Review
Kindle and Nook Etextbooks Review
Interactive and Multimedia Etextbooks Review
Are eBooks a bargain in comparison to traditional books? Read our analysis to find out the pros and cons of each.
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