Are You Getting Screwed on Textbook Prices?

Learn 4 Killer Ways to Save

Since not all textbook authors are as cool as these guys, giving away their textbook for free, we've outlined simple steps any student can take to combat the rising costs of textbooks. With these textbook buying and selling related tips and strategies you should ultimately come out with way more green left in your wallet.

Skip the Info, Take me to the Tips The Rising Costs of Textbooks

According to a federal study in 2006, "Between 1986 and 2004, textbook prices rose 186 percent in the United States, or slightly more than six percent per year (GAO, 2005). Meanwhile, the prices of other goods only rose about three percent per year (GAO, 2005)."

Annual Percentage Increase in College text book Prices, College Tuition and Fees, and Overall Price Inflation

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Is it the number of pages that contribute to the high cost in textbooks? According to a Hedonic Quality Adjustment Methods for College Textbooks in the U.S. Consumer Price Index study, the answer is definitely NO.

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1 Under 150 pages
2 151-300 pages
3 301-500 pages
4 501-800 pages
5 801-1150 pages
6 1150-1500 pages
7 Over 1500 pages

The above graph was created and analyzed. The numbers for 'pages' in this graph correspond to the page range variables in the table on the left.

The plot did not seem to indicate that a different model was needed for lower priced textbooks. Surprisingly, the price for books with more pages seemed to steadily rise with the page range until around 1000 to 1100 pages. At that point, there seemed to exist a condition of 'diminishing returns' where more pages did not cost more money, and in many cases actually cost less.

According to the National Association of College Stores the price distribution breakdown of a textbook is as follows:
Publisher:64.3%
Bookstore:22.4%
Author:11.6%
Shipping:1.7%

Primarily the driving force in the increased cost of textbooks is the publishers increasing the wholesale price. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index, the wholesale prices charged by textbook publishers have jumped 62 percent since 1994

While open source textbooks are on the horizon, startups with ambition to have "8 open source books available by January 2010" aren't likely to be of much help on the wallet for anyone currently in college.

Unless you're fortunate enough to be in Ron Hammond, Phd, professor at Utah Valley State College's class who decided to quit using textbooks because they were too expensive, chances are you're ready to save as much money as possible on your textbooks this semester.

1. Textbook Buying Tips that Matter
  • A cash back credit card or other significant rewards card can offer an immediate advantage on the purchase over cash, debit or check purchases.
  • Plan early for another instant advantage. Contact your professor or his/her secretary a month before the semester starts as they've very likely chosen the course material by that point. This gives you an advantage in that you can buy your books before demand surges. Getting top condition used books at this time will be much easier and this leads to higher resale value down the road.
    • Ask your professor if bundled materials really will be used. If he or she says the CD-rom isn't required or the companion workbook won't be needed, you can save much more money finding a seller who isn't offering these add-on items.
  • If you're considering buying an older version make sure the savings is substantial. You're risking a lower resale value by the time you go to sell your book back, especially if another edition change is looming.
  • When buying used, be sure to check the condition and read seller comments. If a deal sounds very good make sure to ask the seller questions if the description doesn't offer enough explanation to ensure the deal doesn't have any catches.
  • Check seller feedback. Saving a few bucks by taking a big risk with a low-feedback or low-rated seller typically is not worth it. A smooth process that doesn't waste your time is invaluable.
  • Though it seems obvious, be sure to use the actual ISBN number when you're searching. Using the title or the author's name can lead to disaster if you mistakenly buy something that is close or related but not the exact correct book.
  • As quoted from the New York Times August 30th, 2007: "THE BIGGEST SAVINGS are on the most expensive books. For freshmen who are already overwhelmed trying to find classroom buildings or negotiate a truce with a new roommate, shop around for one or two of the priciest textbooks you need. A new copy of a first-year textbook like, say, "Biology, seventh edition" by Neil Campbell and Jane Reece, which lists for $153.33, was available for $57.45 last week at Valorebooks.com." And while textbook prices from most sellers are going up and up� currently there are Biology (9780805371468) by Neil Campbell textbooks going for as low as $8.00, $11.99, and $31.05 on ValoreBooks.com.
2. Condition, Condition, Condition

A simple but often overlooked way to sell your books quicker at the end of each semester and for more money is to keep them in pristine condition. It will separate your used book from the majority of others. Consider these tips:

3. Got Busy Friends? Sell Books Back For Them!

If you're already going to be doing the sell back research for your own books, consider offering the service to any of your friends who are prone to letting their books sit and collect dust after the semester. For almost no extra time you can help them make money and make more yourself. $5.00 a book? 10%? Whatever you negotiated, just be fair, and you'll both win.

4. Selling Tips that Matter
  • Timing is everything. Don't wait till the next semester has started to try unloading your books. 7-10 day before a new semester is adequate time in most cases to list and sell your books. And if you suspect the book is due for a new edition by next semester it may make sense to just offload it right at the end of your current semester.
  • Be sure you save any bundled items and their original packaging for the resale. Sending in a book without these will often lead to a reduction in the buyback price.
  • Paypal may seem like a quick and easy way to get your payment but remember that unless the buyer explicitly states that they will cover the seller's fees you'll stand to lose 2-3% of the buyback price when Paypal takes their fee out.
  • Free shipping can be an important money saver when selling back books. Of course you must ultimately compare the net total from selling back your books to any particular buyer but typically you will want to choose a buyer who offers free shipping through a printable label or a shipping credit.
Start Saving Now by Buying or Selling Your Textbooks at ValoreBooks.com!

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Sell Used Textbooks Back

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Do the principles above make sense and seem like something you'd want to do to make more money than you would by just selling back your books to the campus bookstore? Thousands of students have made substantial money by becoming a Valore Agent. Click here to learn more.

What does the future hold for textbook prices?
College Textbook Affordability and Transparency Act of 2007

Requires publishers informing teachers at institutions of higher education about available textbooks or supplements to include written information concerning:

(1) the price the publisher would charge the bookstore associated with such institution for such items;

(2) the full history of revisions for such items; and

(3) whether such items are available in other formats, including paperback and unbound, and the price the publisher would charge the bookstore for items in those formats.

Read Legislation H.R. 3512: Summary | Full Text

One major stride in reducing the cost of textbooks will come as a result of the College Textbook Affordability Act which passed legislation in August of 2008. Unfortunately it will not take effect until 2010. However, some schools have decided that students shouldn't have to suffer two more years and have already begun taking steps to give faculty members and students the information they need to seek out and find the best prices available.

Also looming on the horizon is the offering of more digital books at reduced cost and even the advent of advertising supported free, or low-cost textbooks.

Increase in College Expenses

Estimated Cost of Textbooks and Supplies as a Percentage of Tuition and Fees, Academic Year 2003-2004.

With the average 4-year college student graduating with $20,000 in debt and roughly 20% of that attributable to the cost of textbooks, it is clear to see that taking textbook savings and consistent timely reselling seriously can lead to substantial reduction in debt which when taking interest into account means getting into the black a lot sooner.

Estimated Cost of Textbooks and Supplies