Best Sites for College Textbooks
College students shopping for textbooks at the campus bookstore are likely to start the year with a case of sticker shock. One remedy: textbook websites and apps. Savvy student shoppers are taking advantage of ever more options for buying and renting new, used, and digital textbooks online. Many sites also buy back textbooks at the end of the term, offering an easy way for students to put a few bucks toward next year's books. Cheapism.com compared full-service textbook websites to find reliable options that save students money. Here are the top picks for 2017, as well as a few other recommended sites that specialize in price comparison, ebooks, open resources, or buybacks.
Cheapism's research found that no single vendor consistently delivers the best pricing. Turning to a comparison site with a list of required texts in hand is an efficient way to find the cheapest source for each book. BooksPrice provides a round-up of the best available online prices for any books searched on its website or mobile app. Users can also set up price tracking via RSS feed or have alerts emailed or tweeted when the price on a selected item drops.
Not all price comparison sites are created equal, and what we like about CheapestTextbooks is its full-service approach to helping buyers find their books at the best prices. Results are plentiful -- for any text entered, users will get a detailed list of purchase (new or used), rental, and ebook rates across a wide variety of sellers -- and the site also provides helpful extras alongside each option, such as coupon codes and deal information.
Bigwords has been called a "Kayak for textbooks." It lets users specify search preferences (new, used, rental, international editions, etc.), load a virtual book bag, and amuse themselves with onscreen jokes while the searchbot finds the dealers with the lowest prices for each title. Students already overwhelmed with the whole book-buying process will appreciate that the site narrows results down to the option with the very best price -- and, usually, they're on track with their picks. There are also advanced filters that can take into account whether a given text will be eligible for buyback or whether a user has an Amazon Prime Student account or Barnes & Noble membership.
Truth be told, we didn't find the results list from a sample search performed on CampusBooks particularly robust -- some of our favorite sellers were missing from that lineup, and the best price delivered was a few dollars more than options we'd seen on other sites. Where the site shines, however, is in its addition of an extra search engine that lets users know where they might be able to find copies of texts at local libraries. Free books trump cheap books any day.
For those who'd like to add a library search option to their browser windows when perusing sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, there's a unique Google Chrome plugin called Library Extension that will do just that.
In many ways, etextbooks replicate their print counterparts. Pagination is the same, and students can highlight and make notes. They can also search the text. Ebooks from VitalSource (formerly CourseSmart) can be read online or offline using a web browser or the VitalSource Bookshelf app for iOS, Android, Chrome, and Kindle Fire. The site also offers interactive material with links to associated websites, online homework and quizzes, and videos associated with some texts for a price. Using notes and highlights tools, students can even share annotations within texts with other licensed users.
RedShelf is another, newer entry to the etextbook marketplace. They offer similar services to VitalSource, and their cloud eReader makes texts available across devices. Whether content is available offline, however, is dependent on the publishers.
Recognizing that the high cost of textbooks and study resources has become prohibitive for some students, many schools and educational services have created online texts and course materials that are accessible to students for free. Textbooks on these sites will not exactly match those offered by the large publishers, but they aim to provide reasonable facsimiles of the information therein. Some of the best-known names in open-source education materials are OpenStax, Merlot, and Saylor Academy.
Those who opt for Amazon's Prime Student membership, offered at a discount, can net big savings on average shipping costs and be assured of speedy (two-day) delivery of books in a pinch. Though print textbooks or ebooks bought or rented through Amazon may not always be the cheapest, other perks -- like convenience, wide selection, and buying through a well-known and reliable name -- may offset any added expense. Buybacks only net Amazon gift cards rather than cash, but quoted prices are generally said to be fair.
Chegg offers print and digital textbooks for sale, rent, or buyback. Customers waiting for books to arrive in the mail receive access to the ebook version for seven days. The company markets a range of additional student services, such as access to online tutors and homework help for a list of more than 22,000 textbooks, with step-by-step solutions to the problems in books purchased or rented through the site.
Students who buy, rent, download, or sell textbooks on eCampus can sign up for a loyalty program and earn money toward future orders. Customers can use the eCampus.com Reader for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac devices to read digital textbooks, or access etexts via the VitalSource Bookshelf platform. The site offers a buyback program and the option to list texts on the eCampus.com Marketplace, with eCampus taking a 15 percent commission.
High ratings and low prices distinguish this popular textbook sale and rental site, which features a large selection of international textbook options for even greater savings. TextbookRush offers free shipping on orders that exceed $35, and many customers say the delivery speed is true to the company's name. Those looking for additional study tools can access summary briefs on a range of subjects. The site also does big business in textbook buybacks, and users can even purchase and sell electronics, movies, or games through the service.
All of our top picks provide buyback options for unloading books when courses end. Students can use aggregators such as BooksPrice and Bigwords to compare offers, and sites such as BookScouter are specifically dedicated to comparing quotes from buyback vendors. But the highest bidder isn't always the best choice; resellers want to make sure they actually get the money that's been promised in a timely manner. Two reputable buyback sites are Cash4Books and BooksRun. Both receive high ratings on Trustpilot (currently 9.2 and 8.6 out of 10, respectively), and BooksRun gets particular praise for fair prices and prompt payment via check or PayPal.