Textbooks 101: Buy vs rent, print vs eBooks — and even how to prepare before classes start!

College textbooksLooking forward to a new semester — a time of brand new courses, instructors and classmates — we also face the fact that we need to purchase all the required books for those exciting, new classes. Thankfully, there are a few more options available these days: the options to buy vs rent vs download. Before sticking with the same route you did last semester, consider the pros and cons of your book buying options.

To buy or not to buy, that is the question

All those new textbooks may seem a little costly every semester, and you may try to find ways to work around it: borrowing, sharing with classmates, putting it off entirely, etc. But, you’re sure to regret those options down the road. So, which is best for your classes and texts? Times you’ll probably want to buy:

  • Books specifically for your major that you might need again — either in future courses or during your career
  • New editions that can’t be purchased used
  • Discounted eBooks, when available

And other times, it may make more sense for you to rent books instead. An article written by Kelli B. Grant for SmartMoney.com on Aug. 04, 2010 titled, “Should You Rent Your Textbooks?,” tackles this issue. According to Grant, students “can save an average 30% to 50% by renting that required reading.” However, before you sign a rental agreement, just be sure to read the fine print for the following information:

  • The policy for highlighting, taking notes or marking up the text in any way — you might end up paying as much in fees as you would have for a new copy
  • The length of the rental contract — you need to ensure you will have access to the text for the entire length of the course
  • The costs for shipping and returning the textbooks
  • The year and edition of the text — it should match the book listed on your syllabus exactly

What about digital texts?

Technology is definitely making it easier to get your hands on your textbooks sooner and without paying for shipping. According to an article on BU Today by John O’Rourke and Nicole Shelby titled, “Textbooks: Rent, Buy, or Ebook It?,” students can purchase digital textbooks for about 2/3 the cost of a new book, however, not all texts are available in this format. Some websites and bookstores offer eBook rentals, but be sure to read the fine print before signing a contract. And, if print books are your classic favorite, stick with it! Just make sure to get your books ordered early to allow for shipping.

I tracked down all my textbooks, now what?

Okay, so you have your textbooks and are ready to begin your classes. Next step: stroll into class without even opening them? (Wrong!) But, just how much prep should you do before you step foot inside the classroom or lecture hall? The Academic Skills Center at Dartmouth College offers some handouts to help you bond with your new book:

  • Pay attention to the cover of the book and the names of the authors — you may even want to research these individuals to find out more about them.
  • Skim the introduction or preface for any pertinent information.
  • Familiarize yourself with the subjects and headers the book covers.
  • Look at the end of the chapters for review questions and summaries.
  • Consider looking up any suggested or further reading options and making a list of the ones that look promising.

Although it may seem like a great idea to read the entire first chapter, you may want to hold off until you have a class syllabus in hand. Many professors like to jump around the text, so it might be better to get acquainted with the entire book instead of just a specific chapter.


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1 reply
  1. Howard Goedken says:

    As e-book formats emerged and proliferated, some garnered support from major software companies such as Adobe with its PDF format, and others supported by independent and open-source programmers. Different readers followed different formats, most of them specializing in only one format, and thereby fragmenting the e-book market even more.


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