Saturday, December 15th, 2018

Textbooks: By the numbers

Alex Greenlee | The Free Press

Posted on September 10, 2012 in books, News
By Brian Saxton

Tuition? Paid.  Meal card? Loaded.  New slacks? Ironed.  Getting ready for a new semester takes work and foresight.  If you’re anything like me, buying textbooks is one of the last things on your list.  Especially if you pay for textbooks out of pocket, it’s a lump sum, rent check, mortgage payment of a necessary expense.  Luckily there are more options than ever.

In the past ten years the number of Internet vendors has increased dramatically.  This increase in choice has ramped up competition in the textbook market.”Textbooks are not a money maker for the store, and that even though Internet books sales have had an big impact, the low profit margin on textbooks extends to these Internet venders, keeping things competitive,”  said Nicki Piaget, Director of the USM Campus Bookstore.  The Campus Bookstore also works with a consortium of New England stores.  This allows them to increase their buying power and offer lower prices.

This leads me to my disclaimer, that while the following list of textbook providers is meant to help you save money, there is no one single place where textbooks are consistently cheapest.  Getting ready for a new semester still takes work and foresight, and probably a combination the following options.

The Devices

Pros: Ipads and kindles may require an initial investment, but they offer some of the cheapest ways to acquire your textbooks.  Many sites offer rental services and the option to purchase individual chapters, and many eBooks now offer tools for highlighting and taking notes.  The sample book I used (The American Congress, Smith, Roberts, Wielen) was only $15.42 for a semester rental (purchase was $31.08).

Cons: Many books are simply not available in this format, and of course these devices require electricity.


Pros: Used books for a penny?  –Yes please.  Amazon’s used book inventory is second to none and in most cases, your best bet for cheap, physical copies of the books you need.  Especially for those classes that require a large number of paperback texts, like literature and sociology.  Rental and buyback services are also available.

Cons: When you absolutely need to have that brand new edition of a book the prices are the same as at the bookstore.  Used copies can lack bundled materials like e-access that professors may require.  Also, shipping time can be burdensome to procrastinators.

Other Websites

Pros: Websites like eBay owned and offer similarly competitive prices to Amazon and the bookstore.  Why take the time to browse multiple websites though when you can go to and browse all of them, including Amazon, new and used, in one place?

Cons: Do the math, multiple websites means multiple shipping charges, which can often eat up any price difference between the internet and physical store.  Again, if you wait until the last minute shipping times can be trouble.


Pros: Local bookstores like Yes! Books on Congress Street in Portland offer a great opportunity to find cheap secondhand books, especially literature.  The USM bookstore now offers a Rental kiosk and a much wider selection of eBooks.  You also eliminate any issues that may arise from online vendors such as receiving the wrong book or edition.  Also, the Internet provides independent booksellers with access to a wider selection of used books.  Lastly, you are supporting a local independent bookstore and that’s something to feel good about.

Cons: There are no books at the campus bookstore for a penny.

Use the Community!

Pros: Chances are pretty good that someone in each of your classes lives on the same floor as you, or in your neighborhood.  Chances are also pretty good that the class you are in will be taught again, by the same teacher, using the same books.  These are excellent opportunities to share or swap books, build relationships within the USM community and even foster greater understanding of class material through group study and discussion [No I don’t have a specific example].  Splitting the cost of you’re books is like getting a 50% discount.  Check with past professors, they might just help you sell your book to a new student.

Also checking the library is just as easy as checking the Internet, and may provide you with a free copy of some books.

Cons: If sharing it is important to make sure that books get left in common areas, and are available for both parties to complete assignments before due dates.  Rental might be your best option here as it eliminates the need to decide whose bookshelf the book will eventually find it’s way to.


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