Saving money on textbooks requires that you plan ahead, make lists of needed textbooks, and research them before the semester begins. Most textbooks ship from sellers within a few days, but some take a week or more. If you wait until the first day of the semester, you may not receive your text until 3 weeks into the semester. In this case saving money could hurt you.
Most obviously, you'll need to find out what textbooks your professors have assigned. The first step is to contact your campus bookstore and request this information. Each professor submits a list of courses and assigned texts to the bookstore, which then orders the appropriate number of texts and places them on the shelves. Another way to get this information is by contacting the Departmental Secretary or Staff. If all else fails, email the faculty member. However, be aware that not all faculty check or respond to their email during breaks.
You'll need specific information about each assigned textbook: the title, author, edition, and, most important, the ISBN (International Standard Book Number). The ISBN is an identification number located on the back of each book and inside the front cover. Every book, and every edition of a book, has a unique ISBN. Knowing the textbook's ISBN is critical because most textbooks are published, and then revised and published as a new edition (second, third… into the teens) every three years or so. If you look for a book called "Intro to College" by Joe Professor, for example, you might find 5 or more books of the same title, but at very different prices. Why the price difference? Professors tend to use the newest editions of textbooks as they contain the latest research; therefore older editions are used less often and cheaper. Use the ISBN to ensure that you purchase the correct edition of the book , specifically the one that your professor will use.
Cheap Source: Students
Often the cheapest option when it comes to buying textbooks is to find a student who has just taken the course and wishes to sell his or her book. Many students sell their books by posting flyers on campus, spreading the word through friends, or approaching students who may be taking the class. As with other means, b e sure that you're buying the right book, particularly the correct edition. Professors sometimes change books or use newer editions of books between semesters. Use that ISBN!
Cheap Option: Digital Editions
Most textbooks today are also published in digital editions for e-readers, iPads, and computers. Digital editions are always cheaper than print editions. They offer the ability to search within the text, a valuable function. However, not all students like reading a textbook on a flat screen. Some prefer old fashioned paper.
Cheap Option: Older Editions
Consider using an older edition of the textbook (but never choose a book more one edition behind the assigned text). If the assigned text is a brand new edition, with a publication date within the last 2 years, consider approaching the professor to request permission to use the older edition. Some faculty will say no outright. If so, don't push. If you choose to use an older text recognize that it is your responsibility to be aware of all differences between your text and the class text, including page numbers, organization, and research. Ultimately it is up to you to decide which book to use as well as to ensure that you have access to the information you need.
Textbook shopping is easier and cheaper online. Put the ISBN into one of these search engines and you'll get a list of booksellers and prices, helping you find your textbook at the best price.
Search engine compares prices across 12 dozen online bookstores.
Search engine available since 1997 includes thousands of booksellers.
Owned by Ebay.com, individuals list their books (no auction, simply straight up pricing). Search by ISBN and you'll see lists of brand new, like new, and very good books.
Purchase new texts at discount rates (as compared with your campus bookstore) or locate used books available through independent sellers.