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How to Save on College Textbooks

Anyone going through college or helping to pay for someone in college knows that the costs keep skyrocketing. It’s getting harder and harder for most people to get through college without taking on massive student loan debt. So anytime we find something that could help us reduce those costs we want to learn more about it.

Recently, I had a chance to pose a few questions to Matt Montgomery the CEO of The site helps students to reduce the costs of textbooks. As a parent, the cost of books surprised me. When our first entered college she was paying as much for textbooks as I used to pay for tuition! And, as someone who’s known to be frugal, that bothered me. I knew that the cost of those books were inflated and that there should be some way to reduce the expense. So naturally I was happy to have the opportunity to get some inside info from Matt.

Q. How much can the average student save per semester with used or rental books?

Matt Montgomery: The average student renting textbooks would save about %60 off of list price for all of their books. So, for a student with an average $500 worth of books, textbook rentals could save them upwards of $300 per semester.

Q. What can students do to encourage the trend to less expensive textbook options?

Matt Montgomery: Students can help by embracing the new alternative options. Textbook rentals are a great way to save and the more students renting, the more rentals we will have available for the next semester. It’s an awesome growth cycle we have been able to watch the past few years and still as rentals continue to catch on.

Q. What’s the best way for students to deal with minor revisions to books?

Matt Montgomery: I assume you are referring to new minor revisions that create “New editions” of popular textbooks. This is a tough question to answer as it applies to every class differently but here are a few examples. If the book is for a class you won’t be thinking about years down the road you could buy or rent an older edition. Its pretty likely the bulk of the content hasn’t changed and you will be able to pick-up on concepts and topics covered in the book just as well. In this case you may have to be a bit crafty about class readings, you would want to make sure you are reading appropriate chapters and sections, as the pages might not be exactly the same. In some classes teachers will even recommend this as an option to save some cash. Also be weary of professors who require you to have all of the various cds/dvds/online access or additional materials because these will likely not accompany older editions, but you can usually buy them separate if needed.

Another example would be a textbook you may want to reference in a few years once you’re a rockstar at your new job. You could still get an older edition for this one, but you would want to make sure you know what the differences are. For example, if you are studying accounting and an older version of a book used an antiquated accounting system, you would probably want to go for the newer version just to be safe.

Q. How will eTextbooks affect the textbook marketplace in the next few years?

Matt Montgomery: We don’t see eTextbooks dominating anytime soon, but rather, we anticipate a mix of alternatives containing new, used, eTextbooks, and rentals. Students will select the option based on the needs for their course of study. Right now students realize that eTextbooks do have some drawbacks. The greatest is that they are predominantly subscriptions of roughly one semester. For students who need to keep their books for future reference, this is clearly not workable, also, while eTextbooks do provide extra features for search and highlighting, some students have expressed that the study experience is more monotonous and draining than a traditional text. In addition, the display device format and display software play a major role in a positive or negative user experience. The display aspect of an eTextbook is a more critical consideration than for a novel or book designed for leisure reading. Finally, as of right now renting or buying a textbook and selling it back can be more economical in the long run.

Q. How do sales for new, used and rentals compare?

Matt Montgomery: Textbook rentals last year were about even with new and used books combined, with new being the larger price of the new/used half.

Thanks to Matt for sharing his expertise with us. And, don’t forget to check out the various options at the next time you’re buying textbooks.

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner with over 30 years experience in getting value for a dollar. He currently writes on personal finance and edits The Dollar Stretcher website. You can follow Gary on Twitter.

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