How to Save $$$ on Textbooks

24 08 2010

As a typical strapped-for-cash resident, I’m always looking for ways to save a couple bucks on textbooks.  I’ve posted previously about getting in on Amazon Prime with a .edu e-mail address, and, today, LifeHacker has a few more crowd-sourced tips on where to find cheap textbooks.  Some of the sites are familiar players.  Others, however, were new to me, so I thought I’d pass them along! From LH:

Chegg offers a nice compromise between buying the overpriced textbooks at your local bookstore and shopping for iffy-quality used books online. At Chegg you don’t purchase your books; you rent them for a semester. The Chegg discount, compared to retail prices, is anywhere from 30%-80% off, with most book rentals falling around the 50% mark. You rent them a semester, a quarter, or a 60-day rental window and then ship them back for free with a prepaid UPS label. You won’t be able to find books at pennies on the dollar like you can by scrounging for used or out-of-print editions elsewhere, but you do get a 30-day “any reason” return policy and free return shipping.

No one should be surprised to find out that Amazon has their hand in the textbook business. The book superstore originally offered textbooks mixed in with the rest of their book offerings, both new and discounted through their third-party marketplace. Now Amazon has a dedicated student/textbook section with enhanced textbook search and student-centric features. They even offer a free Amazon Prime membership to anyone with a valid student email address (even if you have an Amazon Prime account already, they will refund you the remaining balance and extend your Prime membership a year into the future). With careful shopping you can find textbooks anywhere from new with a slight discount to heavily-used and extremely discounted.

AbeBooks is a massive online marketplace for new, used, and rare books. They have a bustling textbook section with new and used books that average 50% off retail—we found quite a few books in our test searches that crept up in the 75-90% range, however. AbeBooks has a 30-day return policy and an easy-to-use sell-back program—plug in the ISBNs, print off a free mailing label, and ship them back for cash in your pocket., an eBay subsidiary, offers cheap media and books including textbooks. Like a giant used bookstore/record store equivalent of eBay, is a great place to find cheap textbooks. Low prices aside, one of the strong selling points for textbook shopping at is their Buying Wizard. Using the Buying Wizard you can search for the books you need and the wizard will search all the deals on to find you the best combination of prices and combined shipping to get your textbooks faster and cheaper.

BIGWORDS is the textbook website that put seller/shipping optimization on the map with their Multi-Item Price Optimization services. When you search for textbooks at BIGWORDS, they scan dozens of other textbook retailers and resellers to find you the absolute bargain basement prices. When the semester is over you can use the BIGWORDS engine in reverse to sell them all back or donate your textbooks through Better World Books to help fight illiteracy in developing nations.

So I did a quick search for ‘Rosai and Ackerman’s Surgical Pathology’ just to see how Pathology-resident-friendly each service could be, and I got some interesting results.

Chegg: Found, but unavailable at all outlets

Amazon: $375 new or $325 used + free shipping with Amazon Prime

Abe: $274 for “International Edition” + $9.99 shipping

Half: $488 new + ??? for shipping

BigWords: $233 for 130 day RENTAL + free shipping

Pretty interesting results, eh?  So it seems that AbeBooks is the clear victor in this case, but “International Version”??  I had never heard of such a thing.  When you mouse over it, it says the following: “The publishers of the international versions do not authorize the sale and distribution of international editions in the United States and Canada, and such the sale and distribution may violate the copyrights and trademarks of such publishers.”  Yikes!  However, there was an additional copy of the North American version for the same price right below it; still, interesting.  Also novel to me is this concept of textbook RENTAL offered by BigWords.  Could be useful for a particular project, paper or case, but to rent it for basically the price of purchasing it?!  Yea, I’m going to pass on that one.

Another tip I’ve used:  I subscribe to the Barnes&Noble and Borders email bacn (aka spam that you kind of want), and they will occasionally send out e-coupons for significant discounts on their products.  During my PGY-1 year, I was able to get Sternberg’s 2-volume set at 40% off using one of these coupons.  So I would suggest signing up for those as well.

Finally, ask your attendings!  I’ve gotten copies of Rosai, Kurman and Kjeldsberg from various attendings over the years for free!  Whether they were getting rid of books they didn’t use any more or they were updating to the most recent edition, I’ve often been the beneficiary of my bosses’ great collective generosity!

Do you have any great tips on getting a handle on textbooks on the cheap?  Please share them in the comments below!



2 responses

24 08 2010

My girlfriend has had a lot of good luck with Chegg. Really fast delivery and something cool comes with each book. The first book she got came with an ultra-sweet slap bracelet. The second came with some post-it notes and something else I can’t remember.

20 03 2012

I have read several just right stuff here. Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how a lot attempt you place to create such a wonderful informative web site.

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