As the semester comes to an end, students must figure out what to do with their old textbooks and where to buy new ones. As CEO, cashier and porter at NYtextbooks, I have some experience in this area, so I figured I would write a guide to buying and selling textbooks for students.
Textbook prices are ridiculously high. This is a case of capitalism not functioning correctly, a common issue in academia. Normally, if a merchant charges prices which are too high, people will buy from the competition instead. On the other hand, textbooks are chosen by a professor who gets the book for free, while the student is forced to buy whatever is assigned. However, if you buy books intelligently, it can end up not being too expensive. There are many options for buying books besides going straight to a bookstore (if they still exist) or even Amazon:
If you can buy from students at your college, that’s probably the best option. You get the book right away without any shipping costs, and you can sometimes get free notes and tips too. I once had a classifieds site to help facilitate such exchanges.
Buy it Used Online
You should almost never rent a book, since they cost almost as much as used books, and then you won’t be able to resell it at the end. Don’t just go straight to Amazon.com to buy a book either. To get the best price, use a price comparison search. The best ones are probably CampusBooks.com and DirectTextbooks.com. I also put up a book search at NYtextbooks.com. You just enter the ISBN or title of the book you want, and the search engine finds the best price available on the internet. (Whatever site you use receives a small commission from the bookstore for your purchase.)
International Edition Books
The book publishers charge American students a much higher price than what they charge the international students. American companies like charging Americans more for things like drugs, textbooks and luxury goods. The rest of the world simply isn’t as willing to overpay. However, American students can buy international editions of textbooks online on sites like TextbooksRus.com or the slightly more reliable AbeBooks.com. They are much cheaper than the regular edition, and although “not authorized for sale in the USA,” there doesn’t seem to be anything illegal about buying them. [i] Lately, however, the publishers have tried to make the international editions different than the US editions. [ii] The text itself is usually pretty much the same, but if you are assigned homework from the book, it can become an issue. In theory, you can photocopy the questions from another student’s textbook, or even download a copy online, but that obviously runs into legal issues. If you decide to go international, you will need to remember to order the textbook well in advance, since they normally ship from places like Singapore or China. International editions are harder to re-sell, since it goes against Amazon’s and Half.com’s terms. However, you can sell them to another student or on TextbooksRus.com.
These are normally not worth the cost. Companies that sell eBooks often charge more than the cost of a used textbook, but only let you use it for 180 days. Eventually, they may add more interactive features to these eBooks so that they become a better option than lugging around dried trees. In fact, maybe eBooks will replace schools altogether… but we’ll stick to the present for now.
Besides buying textbooks for next semester, you need to figure out what to do with your old ones. In most cases, you probably won’t look at the textbooks very much in the future, so you should sell them quickly before they depreciate in value. The textbook publishers try to come out with new editions every few years to keep sales high. The new editions normally have a couple of minor “improvements” [iii] and different or re-ordered questions. Once the new edition comes out, the prices of the old ones drop dramatically so don’t delay selling your books. These are the places you can sell your textbooks:
Again, this is the simplest option if you can do it. You avoid paying fees to any site, and you don’t need to bother shipping the book anywhere. You can post an ad on college classifieds site, or put up a sign in the classroom that will have the same course that you took. Then you meet the buyer, exchange the book for cash, and there are no fees involved.
Amazon or Half.com
If you cannot find another student, this is normally the second-most profitable option. You enter the ISBN and condition of your book and it gets listed on the site. Amazon is the most popular site for buying books, so it is probably your best bet. However, Half.com has slightly lower fees, so it might be worthwhile to sell popular books on it. Both sites charge 15% of the purchase price, but they also have additional fees. [iv]
After the book sells, you need to ship it to the buyer within a couple days. Normally, the cheapest way to do this is with media mail. Both Half and Amazon let you buy shipping labels through their site, which is the most convenient option. A single book normally costs between $2.41 and $3.64 to ship, depending on its weight. You then print out a shipping label, stick it on a padded envelope, and mail the book away. If you sell a book for $30 online, you should end up with about $23 from Amazon, and $25 from Half.com, after shipping and envelope costs. [v]
Another option is to sell your book to a buyback site. This is rarely worthwhile, since they normally pay significantly less than if you sell it directly to a purchaser, and you need to ship it somewhere. There are occasions where they pay a decent amount, so it is always worthwhile to check. As with buying books, you can compare buyback prices with a price comparison search, such as on DirectTextbooks.com, or NYtextbooks.com. Amazon Buyback occasionally offers a decent amount of Amazon credit for a book, so that can be a good option if you will anyways be buying from Amazon in the future. In general, the buyback sites will only pay off you if the book is in very good condition.
This is the most convenient option, if it is offered on your campus. Be careful not to get ripped off though. NYtextbooks pays 60-70% of the book’s used selling price on Amazon. After accounting for Amazon’s fees, other costs, and unsold books, this leaves a small but reasonable profit margin. Wherever you sell your book, it is worth checking to make sure you are getting at least half of the book’s minimum listed price Amazon. The exceptions are international edition books, books in poor condition, or books with a low sales rank, since those may not sell at all.
At the end of the day (or semester), textbooks don’t have to be so expensive. You can buy them used for cheap and then sell them before the next semester for a little less.
The internet has connected textbook buyers and sellers and has helped lower costs for students. Perhaps in the near future, it will help lower costs for all of education.
[i] See http://supreme.justia.com/us/523/135/ where the Supreme Court said one can import shampoo sold cheaply internationally. However, in 2010, the Supreme Court was split about importing watches, possibly because they were manufactured overseas:http://www.dailyfinance.com/2010/12/13/supreme-court-rules-against-consumers-in-costco-vs-omega/ Consult your local lawyer for more information.
[ii] Rumor has it they’ll soon be doing the same thing for drugs sold to Canada.
[iii] Many subjects do not really change in a few years, so the publishers just introduce random changes to make students get the newer edition. However, if a professor and class agreed to just use the old book, it would save students a significant amount of money.
[iv]These are the actual fees for each site: Both sites charge 15% of the purchase, but Amazon also charges an additional flat-rate of $2.30 for every book sold through their site. Meanwhile Half secretly takes part of the shipping commission, so you only get $2.64 or $3.07 as a shipping credit, depending on whether its soft or hard-cover. However, Half does lower the overall fee slightly for books over $50.
[v] Estimate given for a 2-pound hardcover book and a $1.33 envelope.