Save on your textbooks this year with digital ebooks and old-school options
Tips & Tricks

Save on your textbooks this year with digital ebooks and old-school options

It's no secret that textbooks can be a huge financial burden on students. Let's look at ways to save on textbooks by going with ebooks and digital options.

Save with digital textbooks, ebooks and old-school paper

It's no secret that textbooks can be a huge financial burden on students. Being smart about how you purchase or rent books can bring the cost down in a big way. We're going to talk about some ways to save on textbooks by going digital or being savvy when buying real books. Keep in mind, the digital textbook market is far from all-encompassing and is certainly more attuned to the needs of students studying Dickens and Shakespeare than those hunting down the 9th edition of some obscure quantum physics textbook. We're going to scale out some of the players in the digital textbook market and see how Amazon, Google and Apple stack up. If you love paper or have little success finding digital copies of your books, don't worry. We've included some old-school, tried and true tips as well as a few affordable online retail aggregators of second-hand books and textbooks for rent.

eBooks and digital options

Rent, buy and download for free with these four digital textbook options. Digital books, or ebooks, are definitely cheaper than brand new print copies fresh from your campus bookstore and come with convenient features like digital note-taking, easy access and the ability to download out-of-copyright classics for free. Your choice between Amazon, Google and Apple is mostly about platform preference. As far as price goes, these three are pretty close. Maybe you have a Kindle, prefer the ease of Google or are an avid iBooks reader. Or maybe you're looking for something totally free and not tied to a big brand. That's why we've thrown in Project Gutenberg for good measure. ebooks - Kindle


Browse Amazon's massive online library and you won't be disappointed. Get free out-of-copyright classics for your Kindle e-reader (think Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities) and read on any device with the Kindle app or in your browser in the Kindle Cloud. Amazon has a convenient eTextbook and textbook rental feature where students can rent, buy and sell textbooks for their courses. Some textbooks are available on Kindle and you can get real physical rental textbooks through Amazon too. Scan by ISBN and verify that you're getting the right textbook for your course. eBooks - Google Play Books

Google Play Books

Google Play Books is a straightforward, user-friendly book browsing and reading system. It's available in your browser and as an app. Similar to Amazon, Google has its own rent or buy textbook page within Google Play. Google lets you preview textbooks and has purchase and rental options as they're available. As usual, Google's interface is easy to use, clean and simple. eBooks - iBooks


If you love reading on your iPad, check out what's available on Apple's iBooks app. Apple is targeting the K-12 market, and lots of major textbook publishers have interactive copies optimized for iPad . Like Google, iBooks makes it easy to carry your books across multiple devices, pick up where you left off, take notes and more. The app makes for a clean reading experience with simple navigation, built-in search and the ability to store books on iCloud. eBooks - Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg

Well worth mentioning, Project Gutenberg has over 54,000 free ebooks available for students and readers to download and read online. Get out of copyright classics and older works that have been proofread by thousands of Project Gutenberg volunteers.

Old school (real book) options

Not sold on the whole ebook thing? Maybe you've tried a digital reader and decided it just wasn't for you, or your books aren't available digitally. If you're in need of a classic textbook experience and don't want to break the bank, don't worry. We've got suggestions.

Look online

Don't forget: you have options off-campus. Check out these online resources for renting and purchasing new and used textbooks. If you find your campus bookstore to be overpriced, you'll want to browse these online textbook retail aggregators that have competitive pricing, expansive libraries, easy search features and special extra offers for students. Book Savages Search by title and Book Savages will pull up a ton of editions and versions. It rounds up a great selection with the best price from a bunch of online book retailers. There are lots of used, rental and new options. Direct Textbook Direct Textbooks gets you low prices from a variety of online sources and digital retailers including Amazon and eBay. Search by edition and publication date to narrow your results. Alibris On Alibris you can search for textbooks by author, title or ISBN. Narrow your search by publisher, binding, subjects and keywords and get deals on all your reading material. Chegg Chegg works like other online textbook sales aggregators with extra add-ons to get excited about like 21-day returns. So, if you drop a class, you can still return your textbook hassle-free. Chegg offers renting, purchasing and ebook options (you can still change your mind about the whole paper thing).

Buy used

Don't be afraid to skip the fresh version and go with a gently used copy. If you're taking courses in Philosophy, English Lit, Classics, or anything where you read primary sources, chances are your prof will recommend a particular edition of a book. Go with a cheaper, second-hand option. Lots of the classics are available for as little as a couple bucks.

Share with a friend

Consider splitting the cost of a used, second hand or new textbook with a roommate or friend. Take digital scans or pictures of important readings and print them as needed. Share notes, create a study group and split sections so everyone is able to keep up with the syllabus.

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