In a Nutshell: As if university tuition and housing weren’t costly enough, textbooks can also be surprisingly expensive. It’s easy to overlook the cost of books when budgeting for college, but it can add up — unless you are a smart and informed buyer. CampusBooks offers a hack for students who want to save as much as possible. The website and app work with major book sellers to provide accurate cost comparisons for the purchase of new and used textbooks. The platform also facilitates rental options for those who don’t want to purchase books and even guides students to resale companies that will buy back books after classes are finished.
I’ll never forget my first year of college, walking into the college bookstore and gazing around with wonder at all the books.
Of course, I already had my university’s T-shirt, so I shuffled past the racks of coffee cups, magnets, and clothing and went straight for the books with a crumpled printout of all the books I needed in one hand and a plastic shopping basket in the other. Soon, that basket was too heavy to carry, and I waddled over to the queue at the checkout, ready to bite the bullet for a ridiculously large bill.
But, I’m sorry to say, that was quite a while ago … and times have changed. Smart college kids aren’t even stepping foot in the college bookstore, if they’re planning properly. The new way to buy textbooks is online through resellers. However, finding the best deal isn’t as simple as it sounds. Most students don’t have the time (hey, there’s fun to be had!) to have a whole bunch of browser tabs open for various sites to compare the prices of one book to another for every class.
Luckily, as with many other areas in modern life, technology has come to the rescue in the form of CampusBooks.
Founded in 1999, this website and app does all the comparison shopping for you, as well as connecting you with the best book rental deals and finding merchants who want to buy back textbooks at the end of semesters.
“We really take the headache out of looking through each and every web site to determine which is the best price and decide which site is the cheapest and finding out the difference between buy, renting, and selling,” said George Lopez of CampusBooks. “I think it’s amazing.”
Compare Textbook Prices with Just a Click to Stay on Budget
CampusBooks is one the best college budget hacks, and it achieves this through its proprietary API (advanced programming interface). CampusBooks’ technology searches for basically any book in the US its ISBN number, or the 10- or 13-digit code that identifies a specific book, edition of a book or audiobook. Customers can use CampusBooks to search for just about everything related to a book; maybe you have that ISBN code, or the author, or the title, or even just the subject.
Once you’ve tracked down the book you want to buy, that’s when the magic happens. CampusBooks works with 40 different merchants — big ones like Amazon and little-known resellers, too — and within seconds produces a list of the books and their prices found online.
The listings are ranked from the lowest prices to highest, including shipping and taxes. And, if all this isn’t cool enough, CampusBooks also searches out coupons that may be applicable for an even better deal. With a click, you can be directed straight to the merchant’s shopping cart, where you can simply click again and buy.
“We don’t mask prices,” Lopez said. “We give you all the tools to help you buy your own books and find the best prices.”
Rent or Buy? Now CampusBooks Helps Answer the Question
Around six years ago, university students began popularizing the idea of renting textbooks instead of buying them outright. The process is simple: There are certain merchants that will allow you to take the book out on loan and then return it within a certain time and in a good condition. They even give you a shipping code for a free return. It was certainly cheaper in the short term than buying brand new textbooks, but is it really the best deal?
Again, CampusBooks can help with a new tool it’s launching called “Buy or Rent,” Lopez said.
“The only problem with renting is you don’t own equity in that book, and you can’t get money back when you’re selling it,” he said. “I was renting all my books, and I thought I had an edge because I figured I was saving all this money by renting my book. But, then I realized that I could sell it back and sometimes come out ahead when compared to renting.”
The trick, he explained, is understanding the fluctuations in the textbook market. Not surprisingly, demand for textbooks goes up right before the start of each semester. When the semester ends, everyone is trying to sell their books, so the market is glutted. The answer, then, is to buy your books as early as possible and then hold on to them for a couple months before you try to resell them.
If you time it right, you can do more than save money — you can even sometimes make money off your textbooks.
Check It Out: Even More Ways to Save on Textbooks
Of course, not every student is in the position to be shelling out all that cash for a stack of brand-new books.
CampusBooks isn’t itself a reseller, but it tries to help its customers with alternatives to buying. The site can search the inventories of local libraries — including your local city library and the college library — to see if the book is on reserve. Maybe you won’t need to use it that much for a class, so using it for a few hours in the library may save you a substantial amount. Of course, library inventory isn’t available in the middle of the night, when a lot of students are finally getting around to studying.
Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s not always necessary to buy the latest version of a textbook.
“You shouldn’t always go with what your professor is telling you,” Lopez said. “She may want you to have the latest version of a book, but you may be able to find versions that are two years old that will work. You’re only trying to get the information.”
Lopez recommends spending some time researching your classes online to see what previous students have to say. Frequently, some of the books aren’t even used.
But, for the books that are used, it’s important to buy and sell at the right time of the year so you can have a better opportunity to save money.
CampusBooks Helps Students Make the Most of School
University life is full of lessons students learn along the way, and one of them is learning to make the most of your college-sized budget. CampusBooks has a lifestyle blog that helps students get the most out of their academic life on campus. Whether it’s battling the dreaded Freshman 15 or what to do about that super-annoying roommate, the blog and the site offer advice at every step along the way.
It’s not just about getting the best deals; it’s about preparing yourself for a lifetime of challenges and opportunities after college, Lopez said.
“College isn’t just about getting in, getting the paper, and getting out,” he said. “It’s about getting an education.”