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Posted: 1:27 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 14, 2012

Sell your textbooks online

Textbooks rentals help save money on college costs

By Clark Howard


I got my first introduction to the high-price world of college textbooks when my eldest daughter was a freshman several years ago. At the time, I had to pay $135 for one book for one class!

Unfortunately, the cost of college textbooks is up just under 25% over the last four years. That's four times the rate of inflation in the U.S. economy over the same period. The average student spends $1,200 to use his or her books for about twelve to fifteen weeks before they become yesterday’s news at the end of the semester.

Thankfully, the Internet has come to the rescue by offering a number of websites like Chegg.com and CourseSmart.com that rent college textbooks. The latter even gives you digital access to textbooks on an iPhone or iPad.

Several years ago, I talked about what a racket it is that professors get paid to revise their textbooks annually and push the updated editions in course syllabi. I heard from an angry science professor saying that the field of science evolves so rapidly that educators would be shortchanging their students if they didn't update.

That may might be true at the graduate level, but not at the undergraduate level. Most undergrads are just trying to decide what they want to do for a career. As part of that process, they’re required to take a lot of different courses that may have nothing to do with their eventual field of study. So to make underclassmen buy an updated textbook every year is ridiculous.

Professors, if you're hearing me, please think about the enormous financial burden on American families and consider more affordable options. One thing that's available are what's called "open textbooks." If a professor selects an open textbook, those books are available to read online for free. PIRG has put an enormous push behind getting professors to join the open textbook movement. But that's not going to be an option at enough places with enough classes.

That's why renting college textbooks is the smarter option. In addition to Chegg and CourseSmart, other popular textbook rental sites include BookRenter.com and eCampus.com.

Some newer sites that came to my attention from an article in The New York Times  include:


The sooner you find out what textbooks will be used in your classes this fall, the sooner you can order them online and await delivery. You may also want to try teaming up with a friend in the same class and sharing a book instead of shouldering the money all by yourself. That's what I did in at least one class when I was in school.