TextbookRush has enjoyed a noticeable uptick in its standing among consumers since revamping its business model and retiring its former TextbooksRus moniker. The company started out selling and renting international editions, which are generally cheaper than their domestic counterparts. But the international versions engendered no small share of dismay among students who found that they differed from U.S. editions. In its current incarnation, TextbookRush traffics in both domestic and international versions of textbooks. And based on thousands of TextbookRush reviews on sites such as Reseller Ratings, this textbook site is now top dog.
A surfeit of 5-star reviews report that books are delivered on time, used volumes arrive in good condition, and prices are very competitive. Reviewers are generally upbeat about the buyback process -- the bane of the online textbook business -- with most stating they received the amount expected and payments showed up quickly in a PayPal account or mailbox. Some TextbookRush reviews, not surprisingly, quibble about the size of the payments and dispute the vendor's claims about damage. Comments posted with the Better Business Bureau mostly reiterate common gripes about textbook sites: mixed-up orders and returns, difficulty contacting customer service, problems with third-party sellers (e.g., no-show delivery, wrong books) and with textbook rentals (e.g., no access codes, missing supplemental materials). But overall, the customer service satisfies users.
TextbookRush buys, sells, and rents new and used hard copies; it also sells and rents ebooks. Shipping is free on purchases and rentals exceeding $35 (excluding marketplace orders) and generally takes one to five business days, plus another couple of days for processing. Expedited shipping is possible and charges vary depending on the order and final destination. Books can be returned for any reason within a 30-day window to qualify for a full refund. However, the buyer must pay shipping, handling, and restocking fees unless there was an error on the part of the site.
Buybacks and rental returns are shipped at no charge to customers. Buyback payments come via check, deposit into a PayPal account, or store credit (with a 5 percent bonus). The company is explicit about the condition of books it accepts. Pictures on the site can help students determine what will and will not pass muster.
Rental periods may be extended once for a maximum of 10 days at a cost of $9.99; customers who miss even that deadline are assessed 125 percent of the publisher's list price, minus the rental fee.
Reviewers highlight the positives about TextbookRush, including its massive inventory and professional customer service. The weight of favorable reviews justifies TextbookRush's position at the head of the class.
Where to buy
BookRenter does exactly what the name suggests, and for relatively cheap prices. In addition to renting textbooks, the site hosts a marketplace for purchasing new and used books. Many BookRenter reviews come from repeat customers who say the site is easy to use, and the books arrive on schedule and in good condition. Negative reviews on sites such as Reseller Ratings typically mention universal drawbacks of renting textbooks instead of buying. For instance, there are many complaints of charges for late or missing texts that customers claim were returned on time. Also, some reviewers caution that online access codes and supplemental materials often are not included with a rental, so if they are important to a class or your study habits, look elsewhere.
Typing in the title, author, or ISBN number of a book and clicking on the search result reveals a list of rental options, from 30 to 125 days. BookRenter claims that books are sent out within two days, and several reviews on Trustpilot attest to timely delivery, although others howl that books did not show up when expected. Shipping is free in both directions for orders over $25. Students who need a book in a hurry can shell out an extra $9.99 to $19.99 for expedited shipping. Refunds for rented books are available within 21 days of the date the order was placed (14 days for ebooks). The refunds include taxes but not shipping, unless BookRenter made an error.
Rentals can be extended for up to 14 days, in seven-day increments. Students who decide they want to keep the book at the end of the rental period can buy it out. Otherwise they must use a pre-printed label to send back the book from a Post Office, FedEx, or UPS location. Some reviewers recount disputes with BookRenter about the timeliness of a return or the condition of a returned book. Although highlighting is permitted, minor damage incurs a $15 fee. Books judged to be in less-than-good condition cost the student the buyout price.
Books for sale via BookRenter come from third-party sources. After connecting students with sellers in its marketplace, BookRenter bows out of the transaction. Still, some reviewers hold the site accountable for the caliber of the product and service, which isn't always good.
This website seems to excel at its core business. Renting is a reliably cheap option for obtaining textbooks, and renting is what BookRenter is all about.
Where to buy
Hundreds of eCampus reviews at Reseller Ratings assign the online textbook vendor a grade that translates as okay but not great. Plenty of students have good things to say about the site's ease of use and praise the quality of the used and rented books, fast delivery, and affordable prices. But others rag on about orders that arrive late (despite a fee for expedited shipping) or not at all, arbitrary cancellations or error messages while trying to order, and books in poor condition. A customer service representative often responds to the grievances and might supply a UPS tracking number, note that deliveries are not possible over holidays or weekends, or point out that the billing information supplied didn't square with the credit card company's database. As always in this industry, some reviews posted on sites such as Viewpoints gripe about returned rentals that nonetheless incurred a late charge or a buyout fee because they weren't received on the other end.
ECampus launched as a digital textbook site, but the usual buying and selling of new and used books and rentals is now its primary business. This vendor also hosts a marketplace (where volumes might be cheaper than those in the company's own inventory and students can try their luck selling directly, with a 15 percent commission paid to eCampus). A loyalty program awards customers points they can trade for discounts on future orders.
Shipping is free for orders that exceed $59. Smaller orders cost $3 per shipment plus 99 cents per item for economy ground shipping. Expedited shipping, at a higher price, is also available. There's a 25-day window for returns (no opened CDs or DVDs) but also a 10 percent restocking fee, and the customer pays shipping. ECampus offers several rental options -- short term, quarter, or semester -- and shipping on rental returns is always free. Shipping for book buybacks is likewise on the vendor, which pays for books by check, direct deposit, or site credit.
Most digital textbooks are rented out for 180 days, but some have a shorter rental period of 90 days, and some also may be purchased. Etextbooks can be viewed through free eCampus apps for iOS and Android devices, PCs, and Macs, but the company also has recently partnered with VitalSource to deliver books through that platform. Electronic versions of the physical specimen come without bells or whistles, but users can search, highlight, copy/paste, and print. Some reviewers grouse about problems loading the apps and a lack of technical support.
In sum, eCampus is a basic textbook site with prices that are about average for this end of the college textbook market.
Where to buy
Chegg bills itself as a full-service student hub, but textbooks still rule at this site, with prices that Chegg reviews peg as middle of the road. Indeed, that characterization seems to capture the overall sentiment about Chegg. In comments posted on Reseller Ratings, the company scores fairly high, but reviewers nonetheless seem split overall. One student writes that customers have a love-hate relationship with the site.
Some reviewers express satisfaction with the operation, saying customer service is efficient; delivery is speedy; returns are easy; prices are fair; the condition of used and rental books is good. Others are less enamored. Critical Chegg reviews claim that agents are rude, buyback payments fail to arrive, tech support for ebooks is nonexistent, orders evaporate for no obvious reason, mistaken or excessive charges show up in accounts, and so on. The majority of complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau concern billing/collection and the product and service. The BBB site lists many problems as resolved.
A 21-day satisfaction-guaranteed return window is open for purchases and rentals of hard copies (return shipping fees of $5 per book, up to a maximum of $10 per box, are deducted from the refund). Ebook returns must be made within 14 days. Rental periods cover a traditional semester, but adjustments are possible where the term duration differs. Due dates may be extended for a fee, and overdue returns incur fines. Chegg buys back books and pays sellers by check or with store credit. The company guarantees the offer price for just seven days and won't honor the quote if the book isn't shipped by then, or if the condition doesn't match the student's description.
Shipping is free on orders exceeding $85 (with a sponsored coupon code). Charges for smaller orders and expedited shipping depend on speed. While awaiting delivery, customers get seven days of free access to the digital version of the book. Return shipping is free for rentals and buybacks.
Although nominally a textbook rental company, Chegg tries to be all things to all students. Customers can buy, rent, and sell books; buy or rent etextbooks and download a Chegg ebook reader; get homework help and buy study guides; search for jobs, internships, and scholarships; and even watch music videos. Although the site should appeal to students who want the full monty, we found many less-than-stellar reviews of its study services, and it doesn't particularly stand out for the usual business of buying, selling, and renting textbooks.
Where to buy
Customers are delighted with ValoreBooks' super-low prices on new, used, and rented books but dismayed by slow delivery, buyback and rental return problems, and lack of customer service, according to online reviews. At Reseller Ratings, one reviewer crows about snagging a $200 (retail) text for $9.50 that wasn't available from the usual set of online vendors. Other ValoreBooks reviews likewise laud the value pricing and user-friendly ordering process for buying and renting books. But numerous reviews, including postings on the Better Business Bureau’s website, complain about orders that take weeks to arrive (even when paying for expedited service), overdue fees assessed for books that were returned, failure to receive notice of an impending rental due date, disputes over the condition of book buybacks, misrepresented books in the secondhand stacks, and inaccessible third-party sellers.
ValoreBooks is a portal that directs customers to other sites that are selling or renting books. Entering a book's ISBN number in the search field returns a list of sellers who describe the condition of the book and post a sale or rental price. Although this is a good way for small merchants and independent operators (such as students) to make their wares visible, the range of grievances aired in scores of ValoreBooks reviews suggest it's not always so good for customers.
Shipping charges start at $3.95 per item for standard ground (four to 14 days) and climb to $17.95 per item for next-day delivery. Shipping is free for buybacks and rental returns. The company touts a no-questions-asked 30-day return policy. Rentals that are not returned on time are automatically charged for a 15-day extension. Failure to pay overdue fees results in contact with a collection agency.
Given the breadth of competition in the online textbook market, this is one site that could be checked out last.
Where to buy
The average undergraduate shelled out about $600 on course materials during the 2015-2016 academic year, according to a survey by the National Association of College Stores. One way to ease the burden of these expenses is by shopping for cheap textbooks online. The online vendors typically claim that students can save anywhere from 40 percent to 90 percent over campus bookstore prices. Proceed carefully, though -- some textbook sites fail to deliver in more ways than one. Cheapism zeroed in on sites with money-saving options such as free shipping and compared reviews to name the best website for cheap college textbooks.
Cheap College Textbooks Buying Guide
The National Association of College Stores found that Amazon is the most popular online source for textbooks, no doubt because of convenience and familiarity with the brand. But our research identified several cheap online vendors that often post better prices than the e-commerce giant and earn more than a passing grade from customers. TextbookRush, BookRenter, eCampus, and Chegg are at the head of the class. We also found one, ValoreBooks, that reviewers suggest is unworthy of honors.
Sites that traffic in cheap print copies of college textbooks sell them outright or rent them for a set period of time. Our top picks maintain inventories with hundreds of thousands of titles. Each also hosts a third-party marketplace where independent sellers (typically students and small businesses) set their own prices. ValoreBooks is strictly an intermediary between buyers/renters and third-party book suppliers.
In preparing this guide, we found that no one site consistently offers the cheapest textbooks. Prices are extremely fluid in the universe of online textbook sales and rentals, and those posted in mid-summer aren't necessarily the prices students will see once the semester begins. Supply and demand can dramatically affect textbook prices. It often pays to be first in line to buy books at the beginning of the term, when the inventory is largest, especially when buying used. Just be sure to check refund policies and hold on to all receipts. (Receipts also come in handy at tax time, when qualifying purchases can be eligible for the American Opportunity Tax Credit.)
Comparison sites such as Bigwords and BooksPrice can point students to the sellers offering the lowest prices for each of the texts they wish to purchase. Although price certainly matters, students' choice of vendors will also be affected by other considerations, including shipping fees, the buying vs. renting conundrum, and whether to opt for a new, used, or electronic textbook.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked For
Used Textbooks.All the college textbook websites on our list sell pre-owned books at prices cheaper than the cost of a new book. For example, a new copy of the widely assigned "Campbell Biology" (10th edition) was listed at $203.49 at Chegg versus $130.49 for a used version. Comments posted on a range of review sites indicate that students have found attractive deals in the secondhand market.
Whereas consumers who buy new can be reasonably confident they're getting a pristine book, used textbooks often come with defects such as missing pages, highlighting, and handwritten notes. The vendors generally provide some clues about the condition of the book, but even in reviews of the best online textbook sellers, we read complaints about the disappointing condition of used copies.
Another potential complication with pre-owned texts: no access code for resources available only online and no guarantee of getting supplemental materials such as CDs. Sometimes students can get an access code through customer service, or by going directly to the publisher, but they're charged hefty fees ($50 is not unheard of). Most textbook sites disclose this upfront, but it's often buried in fine print and easy to miss. Students who need these materials should be prepared to pay up or default to a new copy.
Textbook Rentals.Purchasing books outright remains the preferred option, according to the NACS survey, but about 40 percent of students rent at least one book each semester. Textbook rental prices are lower than purchase prices (for example, $29.96 to rent "Campbell Biology" from TextbookRush versus $108.99 to buy it used) and students say savings mount quickly. Plus, they know where the book is going when they're done with it -- no worries about buyback hassles or overcrowded shelf space in a dorm room.
When renting textbooks, a used copy that comes "as is" is standard, although some lucky customers may receive a new copy. Supplements, such as access codes to online materials, are not part of the package. Rental periods generally span 30 days to 180 days, depending on the site, and prices vary accordingly. In our price comparison research, TextbookRush offered the cheapest semester rental rate for “Campbell Biology,” followed by Chegg, and the rental period was slightly longer at Chegg. Most textbook sites let students extend the rental (for a fee, of course) or convert it to an outright purchase. The sites automatically charge for an extension or assess fines for late returns. ValoreBooks, for example, automatically extends the rental for 15 days.
If renting texts from several vendors, be prepared to keep track of multiple due dates. Some send text or email reminders. That said, we read some grousing in online reviews about notifications that never appeared. Student reviewers report that they were smacked with overdue fines even though they claim the book was returned at the appointed time. Some assert that, although returned books were in excellent condition, the rental site insisted otherwise and assessed an extra fee. Still, student reviews suggest that renting is a good deal, on the whole.
Etextbooks.Students still overwhelmingly prefer print textbooks to digital, but their use is slowly on the rise. Etextbooks can hold great appeal. Aside from the environmental benefits, obtaining and disposing of an etextbook is a breeze, especially when compared with the headaches associated with buying/selling/renting/returning print copies. There's no anxiety about defacing a book that's destined for the return bin. And let's not forget how easy an ebook is to carry.
All the sites recommended here offer etextbooks; ValoreBooks does not. Digital versions of textbooks are not available for every title or course, nor are available versions offered by every seller. Ebooks are frequently offered for rent but not for purchase. For the largest selection of ebooks, it may make sense to visit sites such as VitalSource (formerly CourseSmart) and Intel Education Study that are dedicated etextbook sales and rentals.
Digitized books often cost much less than new hard copies. That said, used print copies on the sites we researched were generally cheaper than ebooks and ebook rental was considerably more expensive than renting a paper copy. Still, renting a digital textbook may be an ideal solution for students who procrastinate or forget about deadlines. The rented etextbook simply appears immediately after payment and disappears at the end of the rental period -- no worry about receiving the rented physical book in time for class or forgetting to return it and being hit with overdue fees.
Before making a buy or arranging a rental of a digital textbook, check that it's compatible with the devices you own. Most can be used universally on computers, tablets, and smartphones with the right app, but it's always best to double-check.
Ereaders and apps are loaded with features to make the transition to digital easier for students who value the ability to flip through physical books or take notes in the margins. Highlighting and note taking within the text are standard functionalities already, as are search and print (the latter may be limited to a certain percent of the content). Some etextbooks also let students create virtual study groups, share notes and highlights, and ask each other questions. Some incorporate videos and interactive material and offer additional online study aids, such as in-depth explanations of quiz answers. The digital platforms are vendor- and/or publisher-specific and free to download or access through a browser or mobile app.
Free Shipping.Three of our top four cheap textbook sites offer free shipping on orders exceeding a certain threshold: a high of $59 at eCampus and a low of $35 at TextbookRush. At BookRenter there’s free shipping both ways on rentals, but shipping rates for new and used texts vary based on individual marketplace dealers. ValoreBooks always charges a shipping fee. The least expensive option is $3.95 per item, for delivery in four to 14 days.
Charges vary by company for smaller orders and obviously cost more for expedited shipping. For example, TextbookRush charges $3.99 for standard 5- to 7-day shipping for a single item under $35. Two-day delivery costs $17.81 and overnight shipping runs $43.67 (prices also shift based on the number of items in the order and the shipping destination). On the other hand, there's probably no reason to rush with Chegg, which offers a digital version of the text free for seven days to students waiting for an order.
Shipping for rental returns and book buyback is free at all the sites we researched. Amazon offers two-day shipping for free with Amazon Student, which is similar to Amazon Prime except it's only $49 a year after a six-month free trial.
Textbook Website Reviews
Only a few review sites that monitor online businesses, such as Reseller Ratings and Trustpilot, bother with online suppliers of college textbooks, but we found more than enough textbook website reviews to form general impressions. None of the textbook sites we researched consistently earns high marks from customers. Even our top picks receive stinging criticism from some users about delivery snafus and the buyback/return process for purchased and rented books.
The primary reason college students turn to ecommerce textbook vendors is to save money. In reviews they assert that prices are almost always cheaper than the campus bookstore, and each of our top picks garners its share of raves about the bargains enjoyed.
A majority of negative comments express anger over not receiving a quoted buyback price or not being paid at all because the vendor asserts that the book never arrived at the warehouse. Some reviewers find fault with customer service for refusing to address minor disasters such as delayed shipping (even when expedited shipping was paid for), mistaken orders, unheeded requests for cancellation, etc. Still, we read plenty of reviews lauding the experience and the product provided.
Delivery.ValoreBooks takes a lot of heat in reviews regarding delivery. Students complain about books going missing in transit, waiting for what seems like eons for an order to arrive, or receiving a different book from the one requested. One student reports on Complaints Board that she ordered a book a month before a class was set to start, but the order was neither traceable nor insured and just seemed to disappear.
Conversely, TextbookRush stands out in reviews posted at Trustpilot for accurate (i.e., the right book) and speedy (i.e., within days) delivery. One reviewer says a book came even faster than expected. Customers of the other top vendors likewise seem satisfied with the pace of delivery and the condition of the books, although several posts gripe about canceled orders.
Delivery on orders executed through a textbook website's marketplace are more of a crapshoot. We noted frequent complaints about delivery problems in reviews related to third-party sellers. Customers may have little recourse, as the host site has limited control over these independent operators.
Buyback.Selling books back at a campus bookstore typically nets a small fraction of the purchase price. Although many students assert that they do better online, the bulk of grievances aired in reviews of every ecommerce textbook vendor concern discrepancies between the stated buyback policy and the amount of money students receive. Many sites claim students can collect up to half the price paid for a textbook. The reality is somewhat different, according to reviews.
Students call out ValoreBooks as a serial offender. Comments posted at SiteJabber contain numerous stories about checks not received, disputes about the condition or the edition of the returned book, and vendor claims about books not being returned despite student protestations to the contrary. According to one complaint filed with the Better Business Bureau, a consumer was promised a buyback price of $312 for law books and received $2.35.
By contrast, most reviews of the top textbook websites say the companies pay fairly and quickly. Still, reviews on numerous sites tell of students not always being paid the expected sum. BookRenter evades this swamp altogether by shunning the buyback market. Perhaps not coincidentally, it earns very strong ratings overall, scoring 8 out of 10 stars on Trustpilot based on nearly 14,000 reviews.
One major quibble students have with the buyback process is that the company, not the student, determines the book's condition. Excessive highlighting and notes, water damage, weakened bindings, and loose or missing pages generally are not acceptable. Students who plan to turn over their textbooks at the end of the term should remember that each mark made in a text and each bent or scratched cover will lower the value. Consider taking a few small precautions upfront, such as using sticky notes for note taking or painter’s tape to protect book edges, to ensure that textbooks are as well-preserved as possible.
Buyback prices also are influenced by the newness of the edition and whether the company expects the text to be marketable in the future. Checking buyback rates in advance can help determine which edition of a book it’s best to purchase. Renting might be a better option for a textbook that will soon be replaced by a newer version, or a book that has very low resale value in general.
Our recommended college textbook sites offer students selling back books the option of a check or credit toward a future purchase; Amazon offers credit only. Opting for credit at TextbookRush nets a more generous price, although only slightly: $31.85 (cash) vs. $33.44 (credit) for the 10th edition of "Campbell Biology," for example.
Keep in mind that the online store where a book was initially purchased may not always offer the highest resale price. It pays to consult a search engine such as Bigwords or BookScouter to compare buyback prices at multiple vendors.
Customer Service.Given the raft of issues that often arise with textbook websites -- delivery, returns, buybacks, a book's condition -- it's likely that sooner or later customers will need to speak with customer service. Reviews show that different students have different experiences even when dealing with the same company. Some reviewers gripe about indifferent Chegg representatives, for instance, while one parent writes in a post on SiteJabber that a rep agreed to forgive more than $500 in lost book charges after determining the fault was with UPS. A number of the complaints against Chegg on Consumer Affairs concern the site's online study services. Customers were dissatisfied with the help available or saw charges on their credit cards after their subscriptions had been canceled.
Reviewers generally report productive encounters with eCampus representatives, who actually engage with consumers on review sites such as Reseller Ratings and attempt to resolve ongoing issues. One customer, though, says multiple complaints about a book that failed to arrive yielded only the same automated response, with no resolution.
Then there's ValoreBooks. More than 600 complaints against this vendor have been lodged with the Better Business Bureau over the past three years; 95 percent of reviews on the BBB site are negative. Unhappy customers allege a variety of irritants, notably that calls to customer service are a total waste of time.
Additional Products We Considered
Amazon Textbooks Review
It's easy to forget that Amazon started out selling books, although not necessarily textbooks. These days the ecommerce behemoth is engaged in a lively trade buying, selling, and renting textbooks.
Amazon sells only new books directly. Opting for used books sends buyers to the marketplace, which hosts third-party sellers. Many books can be rented or purchased in digital format, and Amazon seems to offer more etextbooks for sale than the other vendors we researched. Etextbooks can be read on a Kindle ereader or on other devices using the free Kindle app.
Prices for textbook rentals vary by state. According to a report by Inside Higher Ed, books may not be transported across state lines, a policy that may reflect Amazon's fierce battle against state sales taxes. Students who ship a rented book back from one state after taking delivery in another are obligated to pay the book's full price. The rental period typically runs 180 days for ebooks, and print textbooks are rented for the semester. Short-term extensions of 15 days are possible.
Distribution is what made Amazon's name, and Prime membership promises free two-day shipping on textbooks and everything else. The company offers college students a starter Prime package, Amazon Student, that's free for six months and then only $49 a year, as opposed to the usual $99. This may seem like just another unneeded expense, but Amazon pads the deal by offering Prime members access to music and instant streaming of movies and TV shows, as well as a large number of Kindle books that can be "borrowed" for free. Students who opt out of membership have the option of free shipping for orders of $35 or more (five to eight business days) or paying for faster shipping.
The book buyback process is a minefield for the industry, and one that Amazon has not escaped despite prices that are generally among the highest. One key difference: Customers don't receive money for buybacks, just an Amazon gift card. That's certainly useful for ordering next term's books (or any number of other things) but also gives Amazon a hold on its customer base. As with competitors, some reviewers air differences of opinion concerning the condition of books sent in for buyback. For the most part, though, reviews posted in Amazon forums reviews indicate that the value owed is credited to customers' accounts quickly and most consider the prices to be fair.
Overall, Amazon's textbook offerings aren't a bad deal, but they do pull consumers into the Amazon universe. If that's where you like to orbit, by all means, hitch a ride. But there's a whole big galaxy awaiting exploration.