Like just about every other cost associated with higher education, the cost of college textbooks has been rising as well. According to a February report from the Student Public Interest Research Group, the cost of textbooks has risen about 78 percent over the past decade.

Yet while the price of textbooks is up, students are actually spending less. Last year, according to the National Association of College Stores, students spent an average of $602 on course materials, including textbooks—about $100 less than students spent a decade ago.

The reason? Many students check out price comparison sites such as Booksprice and Textsurf to get the best deals possible. Another reason is that a growing number of schools no longer require as many textbooks as they once did. Instead, the faculty are switching over to free, open-source course materials.

But students are also getting smarter about how they shop, finding lower cost ways of getting the books they need. “There are alternatives out there now for students that can save hundreds of dollars,” says Ethan Senack, higher education advocate with the United States Public Interest Research Group.

Here’s how you can save money while getting your textbooks:

Buying Textbooks

You’ll find the best prices online, but there’s a lot of variation in price especially for used books. Shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal, and double check the ISBN number to make sure you’re looking at the exact same book. Before purchasing, check to see how often the publisher releases new editions. If a new version could be released next year, the value of your book will drop significantly. You can buy books at websites such as,, and

Should you buy? If you think you’ll need to reference the book after your class is over, it may be worth the extra cost to buy the book. Also, think about the net cost of the book, if you plan to sell it later. While buying a book means you’ll have the highest upfront costs, you need to see how much you could get back by selling it later. You can run the numbers for a specific book online at sites like The Book Rocket.

Keep in mind that if you buy an e-book, you can download it directly to your laptop or tablet. The cost is usually comparable to buying the paper version of the same book. A drawback, though, is that there is a limit to the number of devices you can use to access a single e-book subscription. “If you pull up your book on your friend’s computer one time, you may be stuck not being able to load it on yours,” Senack says.  

Choosing to Rent

Your campus bookstore may offer textbook rentals, but they’re also available online. Among the sites you could consider are,,, and

But consider the pros and cons. Renting textbooks costs less upfront than purchasing the book, and could make sense if you won’t need the books after the course is over. But if you lose or damage the book you may have to pay additional fees when you return it and that just might be more costly than purchasing the book.

Visiting the Library

Many school and department libraries keep copies of popular textbooks on hand. While they’re usually not available to check out for the entire semester, you can use the books in the library and make copies of important pages and chapters. If there aren’t any copies available, ask your professor whether her or she can put one on reserve in the library.

The obvious upside here, is that the book won’t cost you a penny. But if you’re the kind of person who likes to mark up the book and refer to it later, borrowing may not be the best option.