Best College Textbook Sites
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Better Than the Bookstore: Best Sites for College Textbooks

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Best College Textbook Sites
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Savings Are on the Syllabus

As the cost of college continues to rise, students have become savvier consumers. They’re taking advantage of ever more options for acquiring textbooks and other course materials and, for many, online vendors and apps have supplanted the campus bookstore. 

 There are sites that specialize in selling — Alibris, AbeBooks, and Textbooks.com are a few of the major names — and others, like Campus Book Rentals, TextbookSolutions, and Knetbooks, that deal only in rentals. We focused our research on full-service textbook websites that sell and rent new, used, and digital textbooks. They also have buyback options for the end of the term, so students can pocket a little cash to put toward books for the next semester. We reviewed their policies and analyzed consumer feedback to land on four top sites for reliable savings and one-stop shopping. 

 For those who still want to shop around, we recommend notable sites for price comparison, ebooks, free open-source textbooks, and textbook buyback. Pro tip: It pays to be at the head of the class when ordering. For rentals and used books, in particular, prices can be fairly fluid and shift based on supply and demand.

Amazon
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Amazon

Good for Last-Minute Orders
Not surprisingly, Amazon has claimed its fair share of the textbook market. Although print textbooks or Kindle ebooks bought or rented through Amazon may not always be the cheapest, other perks — like convenience, an incredibly wide selection of new and used books, and the comfort of dealing with a well-known and reliable retailer — may offset any added expense. Buybacks net Amazon gift cards rather than cash, but quoted prices are generally said to be fair. Perhaps the biggest perk of dealing with the mass merchant: Prime Student membership, offered at a discount, promises big savings on shipping and speedy delivery of books in a pinch.

Shipping: Free on orders over $35; free 2-day shipping with Prime.
Returns: Full refund within 30 days for purchases and rentals; 7 days for Kindle books.
Rental Periods: Semester for hard copies; can be customized (fixed or flexible) for many Kindle rentals.
Rental Extensions: Typically 15 days or another semester for hard copies; any selected time period for flexible Kindle rentals (fees apply).
Late Fees: One-time, automatic 15-day extension fee; after that, purchase price minus rental and extension fees.
Buybacks: Amazon gift card for trade-ins; Amazon marketplace for selling independently.

TextbookRush
Source: TextbookRush

TextbookRush

Good for International Textbooks
While TextbookRush appears to be scaling back its rental options, high ratings and low prices continue to distinguish this popular site, which offers new, used, and digital books. It features a large selection of international edition textbooks for even greater savings — we’re talking brand new copies for a fraction of the price of U.S. versions. Customers say the delivery speed is true to the company's name, and its $35 free-shipping threshold is lower than many competitors’. Students looking for additional study tools can access summary briefs on a range of subjects. TextbookRush also does big business in textbook buybacks. Users can even buy and sell electronics, movies, and games through the site.

Shipping: Free on orders over $35.
Returns: Full refund within 30 days; 14 days for ebooks.
Rental Periods: Semester for hard copies; varies for ebooks.
Rental Extensions: 10 days for hard copies ($9.99 plus tax); no extensions for ebooks.
Late Fees: One-time, automatic 10-day extension fee; after that, predetermined buyout price determined at checkout (plus tax) minus late fees.
Buybacks: Check, PayPal, or store credit (extra 5%).

Chegg
Source: Chegg

Chegg

Good for Extra Services
Chegg offers print and digital textbooks for sale, rent, or buyback. With the Chegg eReader mobile and desktop app, users can download digital books and read them anywhere, and customers waiting for hard copies of books to arrive in the mail can receive access to select ebook versions for seven days. The company also markets a range of additional student services, such as access to online tutors (for a fee) and homework help for more than 34,000 textbooks, with step-by-step solutions to the problems in books purchased or rented through the site. Other extras include college and scholarship search services and an internship database.

Shipping: Free on orders over $50.
Returns: Full refund within 21 days; 14 days for ebooks.
Rental Periods: Semester for hard copies; varies for ebooks.
Rental Extensions: Free, 30-day extension to fit different semester lengths and longer options for a fee; varies for ebooks and some may not allow extensions.
Late Fees: One-time, automatic 10-day extension (25% of the rental cost plus tax); after that, purchase price minus rental and late fees (refunded if the book is received within 7 days of the charge).
Buybacks: Check, PayPal, or store credit.

eCampus
Source: eCampus

eCampus

Good for Rewards and Flexible Rentals
Students who buy, rent, download, or sell textbooks on eCampus can sign up for a loyalty program and earn gift card credits up to $20 for future orders. Points are awarded for purchases, referrals, and social media activity, and various discounts are available even to non-members. A wide range of rental periods has potential to save students money if they don't need a text for an entire semester. With the eCampus Reader, customers can use iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac devices to read digital textbooks (with access to select texts while waiting for hard copies). The site offers a buyback program and the option to list texts on the eCampus marketplace. Of the sites we considered, eCampus receives the most mixed reviews, but for bargain hunters, the savings may outweigh any pitfalls.

Shipping: Free on orders over $35.
Returns: Full refund within 25 days for purchases and most rentals (minus 10% restocking fee); 15 days for short-term rentals; within 14 days (but generally no refunds) on ebooks.
Rental Periods: Semester, quarter, or short term for hard copies; varies for ebooks.
Rental Extensions: 15, 30, 60, 90, or 130 days for hard copies (fees apply); no extensions for ebooks.
Late Fees: Up to the full list price (refunds may be available).
Buybacks: Check, direct deposit, PayPal, or store credit(extra 20%); eCampus marketplace can be used for independent sales (the company takes a 15% commission).

BooksPrice
Source: BooksPrice

BooksPrice

For Comparing Prices
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 roundup of the best available online prices for books searched on its website or mobile app. Users can also set up price tracking via RSS feed or have alerts emailed when a selected item meets a specified price.

CheapestTextbooks
Source: CheapestTextbooks

CheapestTextbooks

For Comparing Prices
Not all price comparison sites are created equal, and what we like about CheapestTextbooks is its full-service approach to helping buyers find books at the best prices. Results are plentiful — for any text entered, users get a detailed list of purchase (new and used), rental, and ebook rates across a wide variety of sellers. The site also provides helpful extras alongside each option, such as coupon codes and deal information. It will even tell you whether it makes more sense to buy or rent a particular book based on sell-back options.

Bigwords
Source: Bigwords

Bigwords

For Comparing Prices
Bigwords has been called "Kayak for textbooks," and stands out for its fun and user-friendly interface. It lets shoppers specify search preferences (new, used, rental, international editions, etc.), and 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. Students already overwhelmed with the whole book-buying process will appreciate that the site can narrow results down to the option with the very best price — and usually the picks are on track. Users just load a virtual book bag, and amuse themselves with onscreen jokes while the searchbot completes its full price comparison. Searches can now be expanded to locate the lowest price on a variety of products, from software to musical instruments to pet supplies.

SlugBooks
Source: SlugBooks

SlugBooks

For Buying and Selling Locally
Another price comparison site, SlugBooks, is worthy of note because it hosts a “Student Exchange” where users can directly list their texts for sale via Facebook. Listings are visible to students at the same school who are enrolled in courses that use the textbook(s) specified. When fellow classmates post their books for sale on the site, those offers appear alongside the other comparison results. SlugBooks suggests students price their books competitively, but the convenience alone makes this option appealing: Purchases can be picked up right on campus—no worry over shipping fees or long wait times.

CampusBooks
CampusBooks/facebook.com

CampusBooks

For Library Books
Truth be told, we didn't find the results from a sample search performed on the price comparison site CampusBooks particularly robust. Some of our favorite sellers and relevant results we'd seen on other sites were missing from the lineup. Where CampusBooks shines, however, is in letting users know where they might be able to find copies of the textbooks they need at local libraries — free books trump cheap books any day. The app even has GPS functionality to search library (and local bookstore) availability wherever users happen to be. (Similarly, the Google Chrome plugin Library Extension shows library availability when you search for books on sites like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.)

VitalSource
vitalsourcebookshelf/facebook.com

VitalSource

For Ebooks
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 can be read online or offline using a web browser or the VitalSource Bookshelf app for iOS, Android, Chrome, and Kindle Fire. There’s even a read- aloud feature; controls to adjust the screen colors, font sizes, and other visual aspects; and accessibility icons that indicate assistive-technology compatibility. The ability to create flashcards from text material is another feature recently added to the Bookshelf reader.

RedShelf
Source: RedShelf

RedShelf

For Ebooks
RedShelf is a rapidly expanding name in the etextbook marketplace, with services similar to VitalSource. Its cloud ereader makes purchased and rented texts available across devices. The reader is designed to work with assistive technologies for students with disabilities. A recently announced partnership with campus retailer Follett will help expand affordable textbook options and further initiatives to deliver inclusive-access digital course materials directly to all classroom students.

FlatWorld
Source: FlatWorld

FlatWorld

For an Alternative Publishing Platform
FlatWorld has developed a unique approach to cutting textbook costs: digital-first publishing. Professors choose course materials from FlatWorld’s catalog (books are written by authors and experts who publish directly through the platform), and students can opt to purchase digital copies (online only or downloadable) or print-on-demand versions. Prices start at just $24.95. The catch: You may not find your college or your course on the roster — although we did see offerings from the likes of Harvard and as far afield as the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Scribd
Source: Scribd

Scribd

For Multiple Books at One Monthly Fee
Another site worth checking out is the subscription service Scribd. For $8.99 a month, users can sign up for unlimited access to a wealth of books, audiobooks, articles, and more. Texts can be read online or offline using the mobile app (there are some restrictions and limitations) and iOS, Android, Kindle Fire HD/HDX, and Nook HD/HD+ devices are supported. The textbook inventory seems somewhat hit or miss, so check to see if yours are available before committing (you can try Scribd for 30 days for free). For literature majors in particular, however, it seems as if the subscription cost would certainly be money well spent. Looking for The Great Gatsby on Scribd? You’ll find not only the book itself but also study guides, academic texts and articles, and even actual sample exams and notes uploaded by site members.

The Tuition-and-Fees Exemption Is Gone
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Open Educational Resources (OER)

For Free Textbooks Online
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 open-source sites don't exactly match those offered by large publishers, but they aim to provide reasonable facsimiles. Some of the best-known names are OpenStax, Merlot, and Saylor Academy. Digitized copies of many classic texts that are not subject to copyright laws — from Plato's "Phaedrus" to Melville's "Moby Dick" — can be found on Project Gutenberg. On the student-run site Textbook Revolution, you can search for links to free textbooks, as well as student reviews of some of those texts.

BookScouter
Source: BookScouter

BookScouter

For Textbook Buyback Comparisons
All our top picks provide options for unloading books when courses end. Students can also use aggregators such as BooksPrice and Bigwords to browse buyback options. BookScouter is specifically focused on comparing buyback quotes across vendors and provides estimated buyback prices upfront to help students weigh the potential return when considering initial purchases. They even offer a $500 textbook scholarship to students. It’s awarded quarterly, and the application is as simple as filling out a questionnaire and preparing a one-minute video.

Cash4Books
Source: Cash4Books

Cash4Books

For Textbook Buyback
If you decide to sell your books to a textbook vendor, choosing the best option is not about simply finding the highest bidder; you want to make sure you actually receive payment, and in a timely manner. Cash4Books has a 9 (out of 10) rating on the review site Trustpilot and provides free shipping.

Sell Back Your Book
sellbackyourbook/facebook.com

Sell Back Your Book

For Textbook Buyback
This is another reputable site dedicated to the business of buying back books. Sell Back Your Book, which has amassed well over 14,000 reviews and an 8.7 rating on Trustpilot, gets particular praise for prompt payment via check or PayPal. Customers can usually expect money for their books within three days of receipt at the company’s processing center. Shipping is free.