Tips – Buying used college textbooks

My first class is Tuesday, Economics 502. I am looking forward to this quite a bit, my first course at the University of Indianapolis evening MBA program. We have been planning and saving for 5 years, and to know that my wife and I together have made this possible means it is a big day for both of us.

I am looking forward in particular, to having my laptop in class. This wasn’t a luxury I had the during my undergraduate coursework, and hope all of my in class discussion and seminar note taking can stay digital.

I don’t have my Economics book (ISBN 9780132289146 Principles of Economics (8th Edition) by Karl E. Case, Ray C. Fair) that I bought early last week on Amazon, I am hoping that I have it before the end of the week so I can stay on top of my reading this weekend. I don’t know that it will be crucial to have for the first class. As it is, when I checked last week for my course material for Business Law 500, the professor hadn’t finished it yet, so I may not have either of my books for either of my classes on Tuesday / Wednesday.

But back to the book topic. When I was in the midst of my undergrad in fine arts at the University of Michigan, I didn’t have a lot of courses that required books, and at the time I wasn’t as resourceful or driven…or something. (I am guessing here. I can’t figure out why I never bargin shopped for my books. Plus, I had a lot of art supplies, not as much in the way of hard covers, so I just attribute that laziness to the fine arts degree.)

Looking for used books was a couple hour ordeal. Not too bad if I don’t have to repeat my search. These were the main places I did a search using the ISBN number for a used Principles of Economics book.

  • Ebay
  • Alibris
  • Amazon
  • Campus Books
  • Half.com

There were a number of good options out there to beat the laughable price of $166 from the U of I campus bookstore. All I had to do was go to the bookstore, get the ISBN number, and search online. I imagine in the future, I won’t need to go into the store. I should be able to get a head start and find the ISBN numbers listed with the course syllabus online a month or so in advance, giving me some time to plan.

I found Ebay to be one of the better sources. I know personally, I would resell my text books on ebay once I am done with the course. What else will I do with them? Take them back to the U of I campus bookstore and get $20 back from my $166?
Everyone knows, with Ebay you can check the users ratings and usually see a photo to check for damage to the outside of the book. At best, most of the listings will only describe the inside, how much highlighting, writing etc, but won’t provide sample page photos. But the main downside to ebay is the auction time – plus shipping. If you are on a tight schedule, this won’t get you your book in time, which was the case for me.

Alibris was a good used book site, but about $20-25 more expensive on average than Amazon’s used book sellers.

Campus Books is a great comparison site and introduced me to other sites that carry the book I am looking for and I will probably visit this one again. But, you have to be careful. College textbooks are big business. People can sell you photo copied pages of the book, international editions, and like I said, books that should be recycled permanently and never reused due to damage. Do your research on each of the sites and their reputation before sending over your hard earned money. This should be a “duh” comment, but some people that are online still don’t get it.

I ended up going on Amazon, and did not opt for the absolute cheapest route, because I don’t want trash. In terms of using the used books section, I don’t like that there aren’t photos with the item, but usually the ratings of the individual stores are rich and plentiful so you can make an educated guess about what you are getting.

Hopefully I can make back about 75% of the cost of my book, that would be sweet. But that would never be the case if I paid $166 in the bookstore. You are an idiot if you do that. You’ll never see that money again, might as well giggle and roll down the window on the way to class, that might be a more fun way to blow that $145.