Shhh, you hear that?
Ah yes, the gentle sound of your wallet quietly weeping once again.
This time at the enduring reality of the tried and true tradition of buying college textbooks, a heavy burden we all must bear.
Your syllabus, naturally, is loaded with a list of expensive college books to buy.
The good news: whether you need traditional or digital textbooks, these days you can make your dollars stretch further by buying or renting from a number of sites that offer textbooks for cheap.
Most students still buy their books from the campus store, according to recent data from the National Association of College Stores – 4 in 5 to be exact.
In our minds, this is kind of a chump move. We’ve had the internet for decades friends. There are a ton of places to buy (or rent) college textbooks cheap.
Sure, we get it. Shopping for cheap textbooks is hard when you’ve got a million other things to do and buy.
Since textbooks are considered part of your cost of attendance, it’s easy to just take a chunk of that student loan money to buy them from that uni shop nestled ever so conveniently between the Johnson School of Chemistry and Sanderson School of Literary Arts.
It’s not but a quick stop between classes and a few thousand dollars later you’re armed for another semester of reading assignments and exam studying.
But you, are smarter than that.
By the power of Google, you’ve summoned this list of the best sites to buy college textbooks cheap and with just a bit of legwork, you stand to save thousands in your book purchasing adventures.
We need smart people like you and on behalf of our collective future, we salute you.
Pomp and circumstance aside, let’s dive into the how and where of cheap textbooks.
Table of Contents
- How to find cheap college textbooks
- The best sites to buy college textbooks (or rent or sell)
How to find cheap college textbooks
College books, they cost a lot. Sigh.
For the average undergrad, you’re looking at $5k a semester just for books that, one day, you most definitely won’t need.
In a publisher’s dream world, you’d just waltz into your university’s bookstore and buy a brand new copy of every textbook you need, semester in and semester out.
The latest edition, too, of course.
We’re here to shatter those dreams, friends. You’ve got options:
- Buy new books (obviously)
- Used (haha – take that publisher man)
- Rentals (hey, they’re just going to gather dust on your shelf eventually)
- Electronic versions (saving backs everywhere since 2007)
- Electronic rentals (save $$ and GB – win freaking win)
Depending on the textbook, the cheapest option could be any one of these – which is where a bit of searching comes in.
We’ve got a list of places for you to do that below, first:
A few things to keep in mind…
Make sure you get the details right
A few things you’ll need to know to make sure you get the right textbook:
- Author’s first and last name
- ISBN number/Edition number
Title, first and last is fine for finding your casual evening reading, but when it comes to college textbooks you’ve gotta get that ISBN or edition number because these books get updated.
It would very much suck to get the Fifth edition of World History, A Modern Interpretation when Professor Graber explicitly requires the Sixth.
Your homework answers will be all out of order and he has a zero excuses policy, the salty but lovable bastard.
Obviously, don’t just buy from the first place you find the book.
You probably already know Amazon, maybe Chegg, but we’re here to save some serious cash so use our list to find that lowest price – your wallet and your future depend on it.
Armed with the info above, check a few sites for the textbooks you require, double-check the ISBN, understand the condition of each (obviously the shoddiest copies that are still sellable will be cheapest – but maybe you don’t want to show up looking like you found your books at the bottom of the 10 story dorm its last owner threw it off of in victory/relief).
And the usual online shopping rules apply: be sure to factor in shipping and taxes that might not be shown in the price you first find.
Read that fine print
As you’re narrowing down your list of cheapest college textbook sources, make sure you’ve got all ends covered.
We mentioned shipping and taxes above – those hidden costs that can suddenly and violently shift which deal is best.
A couple other things you should consider before clicking that “yes please drain my wallet” button:
- Late fees (especially if your library card has been suspended because you still haven’t returned the Adventures of Tintin you checked out when you were 11).
- Insurance/Moneyback guarantees/Returns (in case the book gets delivered to you in intriguingly inadequate condition).
- Bonus materials (checklists, study guides, etc that might be included for free or a nominal fee).
Should you rent or buy textbooks?
Renting is pretty much always cheaper than buying (unless you get a solid deal on a used copy – good for you!).
Sometimes you might get a good price when you go to resell, which makes buying the better option – though that’s a bit of a die roll unless you take to studying the used textbook market like a Wall Street forex trader.
Renting is also pretty darn convenient – just find the book you’re looking for, pay, receive, use, return.
Some college goers are happy to grab the textbook, use as needed during the course of the semester, unload it afterward.
But perhaps you’re the studious, thoughtful type that likes to refer back semesters down the line to confirm you’ve got a firm grasp of that principle or theory.
Or maybe the course your taking is a few semesters long.
Or maybe you’re planning to one day build a personal library of intimidatingly epic proportions.
In any of these cases, it’s important to know how long you plan to hold onto your dear or not so dear textbooks.
If it’ll be a while, buy.
If it’s a hot quick semester then you’re out, renting might be cheaper.
If you like the feeling of getting cash back into your wallet and want to use your textbooks as a way to keep yourself from spending too much on Patty’s $0.50 wing night when you need to buy more books next semester, buy then sell.
Also worth considering: if you buy and one day want to sell, know that if a new edition is coming out soon, the value of yours will drop.
So maybe rent that bad boy, too.
The best sites to buy college textbooks (or rent or sell too)
Chegg Books is definitely the big league player when it comes to buying, renting and selling college textbooks.
They’ve been around for years and offer huge discounts of up to 90% off of campus bookstore and other major bookseller prices (rare you’ll find one that big, but the normal discounts are fantastic nonetheless).
Site search is simple and easy – just type in the ISBN or title and you’ll find both physical and digital copies with buy and rent options – all with free shipping on orders over $25.
If you decide to go for the Chegg rentals option, you’re covered in a few different ways should the semester get a bit sideways on you:
- 21-day risk free returns – switch classes or don’t love the book you got, return it for free with a full refund.
- If you want to keep your book longer, you can extend your rental period or just buy that bad boy outright.
- If you grab a physical copy, Chegg will give you access to an e-version for a week while they ship it to you
If you decide to buy then sell your college textbooks, Chegg makes it easy – get a quote online to see how mucho dinero you’ll be able to get.
And if, for some reason, they aren’t offering to buyback that particular college book, you can also donate it through the site for some “I’m a good person” points.
Some other reasons why Chegg is badass:
- So long as you don’t go full Harley Quinn on them, you’re allowed to highlight your college book rentals (no writing, though).
- Chegg also spices things up by sending a little gift or two with your cheap textbooks – things like 5-hour energy and free subscriptions to Hulu or Netflix.
- They also do more than textbooks – study notes with answers to questions in over 9,000 Chegg textbooks, career profiles and internship opportunities are available, and they offer 24/7 online tutoring (free for up to 30 minutes, $0.50 a minute after that.
You know it. You love it. You buy pretty much everything from it – now including cheap college textbooks!
Search for Amazon textbooks just like you would for everything else (using title, author or ISBN) to buy/rent/sell from them and a huge selection of individual sellers to save 20% on new college textbooks, 70% on rentals and 80% on used.
Naturally, some books will be available in ebook and audiobook format as well!
On top of their usual search, Amazon can save you some precious minutes using School Lists – just enter your zip code or school name and get a list that’s usually provided by your teachers.
If you decide to do Amazon textbook rentals, you get the same 30-day return policy they offer for everything else.
If you keep the book for the semester, return it for free or extend your college textbook rental at a discount.
A couple other things to keep in mind:
- You can choose your exact rental length and pay only for that specific amount of time.
- You can highlight a bit, but if you go overboard you might get charged the full purchase price (and get to keep that fine piece of college book art it forever and ever).
- If you don’t return your book by the specified deadline, you’ll get a 15-day extension and be charged an extension fee; if you don’t return it after that you’ll get charged full purchase price.
If you choose to buy, you can then sell your college textbooks on Amazon as well, or trade them in for Amazon gift cards (which you can do even if you bought the books somewhere else – neato!).
And if you’re a member of Prime Student (all the Prime stuff you know and love at half the price), you’ll obviously get your free two-day shipping for those “oh shit forgot to get the book” moments.
AbeBooks has been slinging cheap college textbooks since 1997 and for that kind of staying power, we commend them!
To this day, they still offer massive deals on discount textbooks from thousands of retailers who they partner with in cities around the world – so you’ll pretty much always be able to find the new and used textbooks you need, including international versions (which can be extra cheap).
Simply search by ISBN and save from 50-90% on this semester’s college books.
Beyond your usual college textbook fare, you can also find a fat stack of reference books, scholarly books, academic journals, and classic literature, which makes them not only one of the best sites to buy college textbooks, but basically any word-based materials you might need for class.
- Fast shipping for low-stress buying, some college books are shipped for free
- Moneyback guarantee (of course)
- Textbook buyback program – enter the ISBNs of the books you want to sell, get an offer, get cash.
eCampus has a simple yet effective slogan Easy, Fast, Cheap [college textbooks – your welcome eCampus].
As a longtime leader in the best place to buy textbooks world, they offer the 90% discount textbook rentals, eTextbooks, and new and used physical copies you’d expect. Buyback program too.
Search for your books including by condition, buy direct from them or from their Marketplace sellers, you know the drill.
eCampus offers free shipping both ways on orders above $35, with a simple and not too expensive $3 per shipment plus $0.99 per book if you don’t add quite enough to your cart, and you’ll get a free digital version for a week while you’re waiting.
College textbook rentals with eCampus offer flexible durations (semester, quarter, or short term), and you can extend your rental period or buy your books at any time.
Fudged the order (ISBNs have way too many numbers in our opinion) or get a book that’s seen better days and you can return your purchase/rental within 25 days of ordering.
Ready to sell? Just slap your college book’s ISBN number in and see your buyback options, or you can list it in their Marketplace yourself to see if you can squeeze an extra couple of bucks out of the next student looking for cheap textbooks online.
Last point: eCampus offers an aptly named “eWards” program that lets you earn points for buying/renting and referring friends (plus $5 off your first purchase).
Wondering where to buy used textbooks? Thriftbooks.
They’re dedicated to the game, having salvaged millions of pounds of books sliding down the muddy slopes towards the trash bin.
Founded in 2003, they offer 13 million titles across the spectrum – paperbacks and hardcovers, classic literature to medical texts including, yes, textbooks for cheap (including our favorite Architecture textbook for as little as $4.05).
Free shipping on orders over $10 (easily done), 30-day return policy, and a rewards program offering 10 points per $1 spent.
Only downsides here are no new books, college book rentals, or buyback program.
But they’re still more than worthy of our “best textbook sites” list – buy used college books from Thriftbooks here!
Alibris has been making best textbook sites lists for a while – since 1997 in fact!
Tons of selection for new and used discount textbooks from a variety of sources like Goodwill and Half Price Books for up to 80% off list price.
Also handy, you can enter all the ISBNs for your college textbooks into the search bar at once and get a “bundle” option with the best prices on one page – click the “add to cart” button and your off.
Shipping = free when you buy college books in an order of $39 or more, 21-day guarantee with free return shipping too.
They do offer rentals, but you’ll have to contact them. For rental periods here (55 days to fixed semesters), 15-day grace period and free returns.
Done with that college book? Sell it back to them for some extra skrill for next semester’s discount college book purchases.
For the socially conscious student, Better World Books should definitely make your list of the best place to buy textbooks!
They’re an eco-friendly company that collects used books to save them from landfills and resell them to you at a discount.
But that’s not all they’re doing to save the world.
They also help fund libraries and literacy projects around the world, and for every college textbook you buy from them they’ll donate a book to someone who needs it.
Feel-good stuff aside, when we get down to the business of buying used college books, Better World has your back.
8 million titles to choose from (and the used ones are in great condition).
Free shipping on all orders around the globe – even if you buy just one discount college book from them, shipping’s still free.
And they’ve got an industry-best 60-day return policy, no getting stuck with the wrong book because you forgot to send it back between class and trips to McMurphy’s pub and Tinder dates.
As “the student marketplace,” ValoreBooks is an obvious target for our best sites to buy college textbooks list.
Buy, rent, sell options all covered of course.
Handy perk of using this textbook site, they offer textbook rental comparison between multiple textbook rental websites, in addition to new and used options from a variety of sellers and in a variety of editions (in case you don’t need the newest one – thanks for not sticking with the times professor Valderrama!).
We like when it’s easy to find deals, and easy it is with Valore!
30-day money-back guarantee as is the standard.
That shipping though…
It’s free when you rent (both ways), but a relatively hefty $3.95 per book when you buy, so they might not be your best option there.
But they might yet be!
Because students like you can sell back your books (which they’ll give you a free shipping label for).
And they let other textbook stores liquidate their inventory fast – which means you might be able to find the best deal here even with the cost of shipping.
TextbookRush is one of the biggest names in the cheap college books game, starting out as a brick-and-mortar store in the dark ages (1994).
No worries though, they’ve got a website now, according to which they have over 15 million titles for sale – you’ll find your discount college textbook in that stack for sure.
They also offer international versions for up to 80% off the US version, and ebooks at up to 60% off (though they *only* have 600,000 of those).
Free shipping on orders over $35, 30-day returns (free shipping on those) – and they send the books in a reusable box so no need to dig through your stack of old Amazon boxes to find one that’s the right fit for your textbook returns!
And they offer a “Rush Rewards U” program that lets you get “Carrot Coins” (we love the naming schemes these companies come up with – so cheesy) when you buy, sell, or rent.
On the selling front, you can use their mobile app (oh, look at you and your technology!) to scan your college textbooks barcodes and get an instant quote.
If you do sell to them, you can get cash, PayPal, or store credit (the last of which gets you the most bang for your textbook buck).
You can also sell on their Marketplace and set your own price – may be more money to be made there, though keep in mind they’ll take a 15% commission.
Textbooks.com, hmm, wonder what they do.
Buy, sell and rent cheap college textbooks of course!
Search is easy, just like you’d expect.
10 million books in stock, including new, used and ebooks, fantastic.
Up to 90% off cover price, done deal.
Free shipping on orders over $25 and when you return or sell books to them – 30-day window on those returns.
Special little feature we didn’t find anywhere else: Textbooks.com offers “Guaranteed Cash Back.”
Meaning if you buy a book that has it, you will for sure get 50% of your money back when you sell.
In the crazy unstable world of college incomes, we like that kind of guaranteed return.