Are college textbooks worth the money?

11 Ways To Beat The System When Buying College Textbooks

If you are a college student starting a new academic year, you will likely be shocked by the amount of money you have to spend on textbooks.

The price tags on these books can be amazing - and they always climb. The US Government Accountability Office reports that college textbook prices have risen twice as much as the rate of inflation.

Is there any way I can avoid these crippling expenses? There are actually several. The following tips can give you some ideas on how to beat the system this semester.

1. Beat the crowds. Your on campus bookstore is your easiest and fastest route to find the books you need, but it can also be the most expensive. That said, you might save a little money by getting to the store as early as possible - the minute you get your list of books you need - so you can collect used copies.

2. Use the ISBN numbers for comparison. At the campus bookstore, write ISBN numbers and prices for new and used books, then use that information online. Check prices on the websites of Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, eBay, efollet.com, and CengageBrain.com. To save time, comparison ping sites like book.ly or SwoopThat can be incredibly helpful. Book.ly is great because it focuses so specifically on textbooks in all formats, and SwoopThat is handy because it allows you to quickly compare prices on the books you need based on the courses you are taking. Another good comparison site is BestBookBuys.com.

3. Kiss print books goodbye. A recent study by NACS OnCampus Research found that 75 percent of students still prefer printing textbooks, although e-books are growing in popularity on Kindle, iPad, and other platforms. Yes, printing is nice - but e-books are just so much cheaper. On several of the pages mentioned in Tip 2, you have the opportunity to choose the textbooks you need from printed, digital or audio forms. In many cases, you can highlight areas of e-books and take notes in the margins as you read your books online. Another option: CengageBrain.com lets you purchase individual book chapters for just $ 1.99.

4. Rent your textbooks through Kindle. Amazon.com announced the launch of Kindle Textbook Rental last month with much fanfare. You don't have to own a Kindle to read the books you rent; Once borrowed, they can be accessed using free Kindle reading apps for PC, Mac, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, and Android devices. Here is an excerpt on rental rates from an article by msnbc.com writer Anika Anand: “For example, the full price list published by Psychology in Action by John Wiley & Sons is about $ 154. A used hardcover copy on Amazon starts at $ 154 62, or the Kindle edition, can be rented for about $ 29 for 30 days. If you wanted to rent the book for 60 days it would be about $ 36; for 90 days, about $ 43; and for 120 days, the length of a typical semester, about $ 46. Assuming a student purchases the course materials for the duration of the course, he or she would save about $ 16 plus potential shipping costs on the cheapest used version available . ”

5. Rent your textbooks in other ways. Similar to online movie rental services, sites like BookRenter.com and Chegg.com allow you to rent textbooks instead of buying them. The savings can be significant as long as you return your books in a timely manner so that your loans don't turn into purchases. Another option: check to see if your college or university offers a textbook loan service to help students save money. To learn more about how to rent textbooks instead of buying them, check out this helpful column on the topic from ConsumerMan Herb Weisbaum.

6. Check out CourseSmart. Five textbook publishers - Pearson, John Wiley & Sons, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, and Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group - have teamed up to make thousands of textbooks available on CourseSmart.com in less expensive e-book format. CourseSmart continues to add new book titles, so the site prides itself on the fact that its catalog contains more than "90 percent of the textbooks used in North American higher education today".

7. Free downloads are your friends. Many literature classics and a host of other books are available for free download from websites such as Project Gutenberg.

8. Form a book club. Do you know or can you meet other students who share your major? If so, you could create a group of brothers (and sisters) who would share, buy, and sell books with one another at fair prices.

9. The library doesn't charge a penny. Many universities keep copies of textbooks in the library, where they can be used free of charge. Your city or county library may even have copies of certain textbooks. Be aware, however, that this approach can fail if the books you are looking for are not available when you need them.

10. Older editions are always worth a look. If a new edition has just been published for any of the textbooks on your list, carefully compare it to the previous edition. The changes can be so minor that you really don't have to pay a top dollar for the newer version.

11. Sell your books with care. The on campus bookstore will only give you a fraction of what you paid for your books by the time you are done with them. So sell on the student network you started or online through sites like Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, eBay, eCampus.com, and Chegg.com.